Sometimes you win and so it was with my fight with the Chair of the Commercial & Investments Committee over the regular exclusion of the press and public when the agenda items relating to the Council’s project development program was to be discussed. The monitoring officer ruled that this was totally unnecessary so this month we were able to talk bout the Council’s projects, and the Cottenham one in particular, in public.
Given this ruling I asked if the minutes relating to private sessions from previous meetings could now also be made public. The answer to that is ‘no’ because you can’t simply undo a previous decision. That makes sense to me. However the monitoring officer made it clear that decisions to to exclude have little to do with FOI and anyone who now wishes to request the currently not public minutes now has clear grounds for so doing.
It’s not all good news however. The committee voted on whether or not to pause the Cottenham project. It voted against (Lib Dems and Labour for, Tories against).
This is wrong. The Council is pushing ahead in defiance of the parish council’s opinion because it wants to exploit a loophole in planning arising from the fact that South Cambs does not at present have a 5 year housing supply. It implies that the parish council is being uncooperative and that the latter’s development of a neighbourhood plan is holding it up unnecessarily. What it’s forgetting is that neighbourhood plans are perfectly legitimate and that their development is encouraged as a part of ‘localism’. What it’s also forgetting is that the Council is asking parish councils etc to take on more of the County Council’s functions as it is increasingly strapped for cash.
This Council should not behave in this way. It should be working with lower tier councils and not against them. As the upper tier authority is should be demonstrating leadership. It needs to not forget that it is a council, it is a public sector body with broad stakeholder responsibilities and not a private sector developer wholly fixed on maximising shareholder returns.
Way back early last year I described the Council’s approach to this proposed development as ‘outrageous’. It still is.