Top Tories survive vote of no confidence over ‘plan failure’

Ricky Bower has spoken out about his concerns with the proposed restructure of Arun district's electoral boundaries.
Ricky Bower has spoken out about his concerns with the proposed restructure of Arun district's electoral boundaries.

SENIOR Arun councillors were urged to take responsibility for ‘continued failures’ to deliver a local plan in a dramatic vote of no confidence on Tuesday.

Liberal Democrat councillors called for Arun District Council leader Gill Brown and cabinet member Ricky Bower to ‘take the rap’ for the council’s struggles to get the key document in place.

But Conservative colleagues leapt to the duo’s defence, defeating the motion by 32 votes to three. Seven councillors, including two Lib Dems, abstained.

Lib Dem deputy leader Dr James Walsh said: “Leadership carries responsibility and if that leadership has failed to such an extent that it has cost £2million to local taxpayers, got us no local plan and opened us to the rampant speculative development that is happening all around Arun district, then it is right and proper that they should be called to account.”

A local plan must be produced by all authorities to set out their long-term visions for housebuilding. It includes a yearly target for housing delivery.

Arun’s must now work towards a possible 845 homes per annum target – a sharp rise on the initial 580 submitted in 2014.

The Lib Dems blamed the Tories for ‘dithering’ and ‘ignoring officer advice’, which they believe would have seen a plan – with lower targets – submitted quicker.

But Tory backbencher Trevor Bence argued ‘no one person could be blamed’, as the plan had been approved by the entire council, including Lib Dems, in 2014.

He highlighted previous reports to council, which noted numerous changes in government and policy, causing delays to the plan.

Cabinet member Terry Chapman said it was the duty of the largest political group to select its leader, suggesting the Lib Dems should join his party if they wanted to influence the selection.

Deputy leader Dudley Wensley said the motion was motivated by ‘sheer spite’, adding the plan was the council’s as a whole.

Mrs Brown said the council was ‘not alone’, with numerous councils facing high numbers they could not achieve.

Mr Bower said the Lib Dems credited him with more power than he had, as there was ‘no whip’ on local plan votes. He noted 80 of 240 councils with plans in place were now having to revisit them, so even if Arun had got a plan in place earlier, it would have still had to review it.

Lib Dem leader Francis Oppler said the pair had ‘screwed up’ and still would not accept responsibility.