Cabinet departure ‘not a sacking’, veteran councillor claims

Councillor Ricky Bower
Councillor Ricky Bower

A veteran Arun cabinet member surprisingly relieved of his duties last night has refuted his departure being a ‘sacking’ (Thursday, May 18).

Councillor Ricky Bower has overseen Arun District Council’s planning portfolio since 2006 – and held other cabinet roles previously.

But as part of changes confirmed last night, he will now become chairman of development control and head-up the local plan sub-committee.

Mr Bower confirmed this morning he had not resigned – but did not agree his departure was a sacking.

He said: “It is not a sacking as such. It is largely a sideways move but I am stuffed by the legality in that no executive member can be chairman of development control or any regulatory committee.”

Mr Bower will be replaced by Barnham councillor John Charles, who previously chaired the local plan sub-committee and sat on development control, which determines planning applications received by the authority.

His years of expertise in planning were the best fit for the vacant development control chairmanship, Mr Bower said.

“The difficulty we have is who has the knowledge and ability of planning to take on development control,” he said.

“That is where the difficulty has lied. I am also going to be chairman of the local plan sub-committee, so the connection to the local plan is still there.”

The local plan is a legal document which the council must produce to map out the district’s long-term future in terms of housing and economic growth.

Mr Bower had overseen its preparation in his cabinet role.

He has faced numerous calls to resign, with residents and opposition councillors angry at the time it has taken to get the plan in place.

The process has cost Arun more than £1.8million and been in progress for more than a decade.

The latest version of the plan is yet to be approved by a government inspector. It will be scrutinised later this year.

In August, 2015, an open letter signed by 159 residents called for Mr Bower and leader Gill Brown to step down over delays in getting the plan in place.

But the former cabinet member insisted such concerns were not linked to his departure.

Reflecting on his time in the cabinet, he said: “I am proud. I think the district from a planning point of view is in a much better position than it has been for a very long time.”

Questions for leader

Arun District Council leader Gill Brown claimed changes to the roles of cabinet members led to the sacking.

An Arun press release on Tuesday included a lenghty statement from Mrs Brown, who highlighted how a cost-saving restructure had seen top council officers take up new roles – and tweaks to the duties of her cabinet meant ‘making changes’.

The Gazette was told to expect a press release after twice sending the leader a list of unanswered questions in the wake of the reshuffle.

They included asking why she had not publicly thanked councillor Ricky Bower for his service and whether loyalty was a factor in her decision, after leaked emails revealed she told councillor Paul Dendle she needed a ‘strong and loyal cabinet’.

Mrs Brown said she did not comment on leaked emails.

Instead, her statement read: “We now have fewer director posts and have appointed new group head positions. As part of the change, there was a need to align the cabinet members with the new areas and portfolios and this meant making changes.

“In order to move forward and deliver the 2020 Vision effectively it is important to use the skills, knowledge and experience amongst our councillors. This means that the portfolios and services can be managed and delivered to the highest standards.”

Mrs Brown said it was ‘timely to adjust the skillset’ of the cabinet as the local plan reached its final stage. She said this would build on councillor Bower’s ‘hard work, commitment and

determination’.