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Councillor frozen out of voting on housing bid in his own district

PUBLISHED: 12:22 16 February 2015 | UPDATED: 12:22 16 February 2015

Suffolk Coastal councillor Christopher Hudson

Suffolk Coastal councillor Christopher Hudson

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A senior Suffolk councilman has been barred from voting in a controversial housing debate amid allegations of bias against the development.

Christopher Hudson was kicked off the committee which will today decide whether 263 new homes can be built in his district of Framlingham.

It comes after he was accused of “predetermining” the applications – for 100 homes at Mount Pleasant and 163 homes at Fairfield Road – after publicly branding them “unnecessary and unwanted”.

Mr Hudson’s suspension was revealed in a report written by the officer looking into the accusations, advising the move to Suffolk Coastal leader, Ray Herring.

The decision means Mr Hudson will lose his right to vote, and will instead have to speak on behalf of his electorate as a district ward member.

The suspension will stand until the council decides how to resolve the dispute, which began after Framlingham Town Council made a complaint that Mr Hudson breached the Suffolk Code of Conduct by denouncing the applications at a public meeting he called in October.

During that meeting he also showed support for the development of protest group Framlingham Residents Association (FRAm).

In light of October’s meeting, he is accused of having a “closed mind” on the applications, which could make his position on committee subject to challenge.

It is also alleged he made insulting comments about Framlingham Town Council’s emerging Neighbourhood Plan at a meeting in November, saying the housing bids would have been long-decided before the plan was finished.

Mr Hudson said he was not against housing, and has previously spoken in favour of sustainable or brownfield development and the need for affordable homes.

Promising to attend today’s meeting in his usual role, he said: “I will be turning up as normal until I am told what I have done wrong.

“I was relaying the views of Framlingham residents. I am not biased or predetermined, but that is something for me or a judge to declare.

“The timing of this is appallingly close to determination of the biggest development in the town since Framlingham Castle.”

Mr Herring said the recommendations were in accordance with the council’s complaints procedure.

He added: “In response to that advice, and having considered the matter, I have taken action and removed councillor Hudson from the development management committees until such time that he has completed additional training.

“This is to protect the council’s decision making process by maintaining a high standard of governance and ensuring that the council is not placed at risk from challenge.

“He is entirely free to speak and represent on behalf of Framlingham residents at development management meetings.”

Health chiefs issued a last minute “holding objection” against Persimmon Homes’ application to build 100 homes at Mount Pleasant, Framlingham, after highlighting pressures faced by the local surgery.

Lawson Planning Partnership, writing on behalf of NHS England: East Anglia Local Area Team (NHSE), submitted the objection ahead of today’s meeting, which will also consider Taylor Wimpey’s bid for Fairfield Road.

Despite local objection, council case officers last week recommended approval of both applications, citing their significant contribution to the district’s housing targets.

NHSE’s objection came after the recommendation but before the end of consultation.

To accommodate an additional 241 patients expected to arise from the Mount Pleasant development – not including the Fairfield Road application, for which consultation had already closed – the NHSE called for a contribution of £33,800 to fund the required extra floor space.

With a current patient list of 9,290, the general practice is reported as being 2,540 over capacity already.

Members of Framlingham Residents Association (FRAm), formed out of opposition to development on greenfield sites, have questioned how planning officers could write a report recommending an approval before consultation was complete.

A spokesman for SCDC said it is a “fairly common occurrence” and the consultation responses received after papers are produced are taken into account when the application is considered.

Members of FRAm are expected to speak during the public session today.

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Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore, and Chief Constable Gareth Wilson are staging a series of public meetings across the county through the coming months – and are encouraging Suffolk residents to attend.

Violent crime rose almost a third in Suffolk last year, according to latest figures.

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