Council accused of planning gag
A SUFFOLK council has been accused of “gagging” its members from having their say on plans for a controversial housing development.A number of Babergh District councillors have been advised not to have any further involvement on a decision that could lead to 170 homes being built in Great Cornard, after they signed a petition against the proposal.
A SUFFOLK council has been accused of “gagging” its members from having their say on plans for a controversial housing development.
A number of Babergh District councillors have been advised not to have any further involvement on a decision that could lead to 170 homes being built in Great Cornard, after they signed a petition against the proposal.
The council, which is due to discuss the Carsons Drive development as part of its Local Plan, said councillors should keep an “open mind” about planning decisions, and not make up their minds before hearing all the available evidence.
But the move has angered local campaigners, who fear if votes are blocked the multi-million pound scheme could get the go-ahead.
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Members of the Save Gainsborough Country Action Group (SGCAG) fear the homes would destroy views made famous by celebrated painter Thomas Gainsborough, such as Cornard Wood.
The group spent five weeks gathering 2,200 signatures - including those of some district councillors - for a petition that was later handed to the district council during a recent consultation period.
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But council members who pledged their support to the campaign later received a letter from the council, recommending they are not present when the matter is discussed at a full council meeting on April 11.
Stefan Kosciuszko, chairman of the SGCAG, claimed the council was effectively gagging democracy by not allowing some of its members to put forward their votes on the development.
“It is worth pointing out that at no point were these gagged councillors a member of the SGCAG,” he said.
“If signing a petition is not allowed then presumably voting on this matter at parish council level is not allowed, in which case how are our councillors meant to democratically represent us as voters.
“The answer may be that perhaps the council is not concerned with democracy and will ignore the voices of over 2,200 people and the local community.
“I am confident that in spite of such manoeuvres, the remaining district councillors will see through this travesty and vote for democracy and sound planning by throwing this development out of the Local Plan.”
District councillor Peter Beer, who represents the Great Cornard South ward, said he “sympathised” with colleagues who had received letters from the council.
“It amazes me that the council has got time to sift through 2,200 signatures to find out how many members have signed the petition,” he said.
But a spokeswoman for Babergh District Council said: “The Local Plan is of paramount importance for proper planning of land use and development in the area.
“Councillors should not make up their minds about the sites to be included within the Local Plan before they have heard all the evidence available both in writing and during the debate itself. The law is very clear: councillors must keep an open mind.
“Therefore, councillors who have petitioned the council in opposition to a site have been advised that they should absent themselves both from the council's debate and the vote on this issue. Otherwise the decision on the adoption of the Local Plan could be legally challenged. This could potentially cost Babergh District Council Taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds in legal and other fees.”