On 15th March Councillor Rob Leitch spoke for eight minutes on the disposal of four Bexley
parks and Councillor June Slaughter kept up the pressure for very nearly 20
minutes, but no one could beat
Councillor Francis’s 61 minutes of questions and
answers. Nevertheless, he came back for more.
He said the disposal was perhaps the most important decision he had to make during his twelve years on the Council. He referred to the legal training he had been given as a member of the General Purposes Committee and the definition of an unresolved objection. He believed that the objection relating to the covenant and planning conditions on Wilde Road were unresolved and “therefore I cannot come to a conclusion on that matter”.
In West Street the “officers have told us tonight that again they can’t confirm the position if that land did form part the [previously quoted] planning agreement, therefore I believe that planning objection is unresolved”.
At Old Farm “the issue relating to the Gaelic Football Ground and the planning application there, if you refer to page 158 of the main document, that relates to our objections in 2004, and tonight we have been unable to get clarification on whether the planning designation of the Gaelic Football Ground is the same as Old Farm Park and therefore we are not able to confirm we are going down a contradictory road and therefore I do not believe the objection has been resolved”.
“Given the fact they are unresolved I do believe an Inquiry is required on those issues however I am happy to move that we defer for officers to come back on the planning issues and those objections which I don’t believe have been resolved. However I will say that if that vote is lost I shall be voting against because I believe a Public Inquiry is needed because those grounds have not been resolved this evening.” Loud applause from the public gallery.
The Human Resources Manager, Nick Hollier, said the Committee need only consider those objections and whether a Public Inquiry was required depends on the Committee believing it can “reasonably and practically deal with the issues that have been raised and the criteria around what is an exceptional case relates to significant disputes that the fact central to the ultimate disposal decision on substantial disputes of law so it would be open to members of this Committee having read the officers’ response to the objections that have been raised having taken into account the consultation which has been included for consideration by this Committee to conclude that it is able to deal with the objections and issues that have been raised and to decide that a Public Inquiry isn’t necessary”.
A hideously convoluted way of saying the Committee can do what ever it feels like doing.
Councillor Francis was not moved from his previous position and repeated that he was happy to defer “so that officers could come back with an answer on those [issues]”. Mr. Hollier repeated that “it was open to this Committee to weigh up what has been said and what has been included in the responses. Where we haven’t got all the information those matters would be dealt with in the normal planning process. Members may take the view that that sufficiently deals with it in order to be able to proceed.”
Opposition Leader Alan Deadman also spoke in favour of deferment. A vote was taken on the deferral and of course it was defeated by the Conservatives.
Councillor Sharon Massey said she wanted to challenge some of the comments made earlier by Sidcup Councillors Leitch and Slaughter.
She said that the Council had never said there was an over-provision of open spaces - obviously Councillor Massey has not been paying attention. At the Cabinet meeting last November there was a reference to “the relatively high level of publicly accessible space in Bexley”.
She continued. “The statutory process which the officers followed is statutory. At times we find it frustrating. If you had an objection to the consultation process then it is down to you guys, but there is no argument that the public aren’t aware what was out for consultation, the evidence is in the room.”
“I am a resident of Sidcup myself so you understand the position where I am coming from, I’m doing it because I am supporting a recommendation put forward at Cabinet and Full Council because I am here for all the residents of the borough. We have got a quarter of a million plus residents growing all the time so for me it’s not just about the residents in my ward. The decision I take tonight is in the best interests of all of us.”
The Chairman asked the Committee Members if they were confident they could make the decision. Councillor Massey said she had no unresolved objections. She seconded Councillor Betts’ proposal.
The vote was taken. You know the answer.
Of the six Tories with raised hands seen here, Councillors David Hurt (Barnehurst), Nick O’Hare (Blendon & Penhill) and Geraldene Lucia-Hennis (Crayford) said nothing for all of the 160 minutes. Nigel Betts (Falconwood & Welling) spoke only to move the motion and James Hunt (East Wickham) asked only about the redaction of objectors’ personal details. So only Councillor Sharon Massey (Danson) made any relevant contribution at all, and then only to say she was disappointed with Councillor Daniel Francis for asking questions publicly.
Not a single relevant question from any of them. Nothing but Teresa O’Neill’s voting fodder.