SENIOR councillors last night strongly rejected renewed calls for their resignations over the handling of the local plan (Thursday, September 10).
Leader Gill Brown and cabinet member for planning and infrastructure Rickie Bower were urged to stand down by two residents at last night’s Arun District Council full council meeting.
Tony Dixon, who had last month called for the duo to stand down in an open letter supported by over 150 residents, told Mrs Brown: “As a district, what we need is genuine, open-minded engagement between council and public in order to bring forward a sound local plan and regeneration proposals for Bognor Regis that have the support of the public.
“If you genuinely want what is best for the district then isn’t it time for you and councillor Bower to stand down?”
Mrs Brown was first to rebut the call. She noted her and Mr Bower’s ‘overwhelming’ re-election, while Mr Dixon had unsuccessfully stood in Barnham in May.
She said: “You asked if I want what is best and the answer is of course I do.
“At the election last May residents recognised we both had the best interests of the district and both myself and councillor Bower were re-elected with overwhelming support. Residents didn’t have the same confidence in your ward.”
Mrs Brown, and later Mr Bower, pointed to various changes in legislation and governments, which had seen the goalposts moved on local plan preparation.
She said she was working with other leaders on a national level to reform the process, which could involve preparing plans in stages, rather than all at once.
Responding to resident Laurie Ward’s questioning of his future, Mr Bower said: “We were advised to let matters take their course and continue with the submission. The inspector in his conclusions said the timing of these events is certainly very unfortunate, especially coming at the end of the plan period.”
He added: “I remain determined that we will deliver an adoptable local plan and I have no intention of resigning.”
Councillors later discussed the future of the local plan, voting to suspend it for up to 18 months.
The suspension was recommended by a Government inspector, so Arun could investigate whether it could meet house building targets of 758 homes per year.
The plan had included a target of 641 homes per year but new demographic data emerged after the plan was submitted, which rendered the initial target out of date.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Dr James Walsh criticised the Conservative administration for failing to deliver an adopted local plan.
He said: “Arun District Council has had one of the biggest disasters in its entire history through this local plan. It’s not just one car crash, it has been a series of car crashes with potentially more to come. We haven’t learnt from history.
“Last night at the joint east Arun area committee we were sermonised by the cabinet member on how it was everyone else’s fault. Government was blamed, change of ministers was blamed, everybody was blamed.
“There is one person who must take a large amount of responsibility and that is the cabinet member himself.”
Mr Bower angrily rejected Mr Walsh’s accusation, suggesting his comments at the previous meeting were out of context.
Click here for a report on that meeting.
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