Whip system breached rulesBy Hugh Fort
July 03, 2012
A decision to use party whip rules to push ahead with a controversial housing plan was an unintentional breaking of the rules, it has been ruled.
Bracknell Forest Council’s Tory party used the system to vote through the Site Allocations Development Plan Document (SADPD) earlier this year.
However, the borough’s standards committee has now ruled that decision broke the rules because the council is not allowed to use whip votes on planning matters.
The system is used to make decisions within the ruling Tory group before public meetings.
All the discussions are done in private and if members do not follow the whip they can be punished.
Three members – Councillor Shelagh Pile of Harmans Water, Cllr Chas Baily of Birch Hill and Hanworth, and Cllr Michael Sargeant, member for Bullbrook – were all suspended from the Conservative Party for voting against the plans.
At the meeting, the committee agreed that the mistake was unintentional, and that the policy itself was muddled.
Cllr Paul Bettison, leader of the council, had called for the decision to be looked at by the committee with the aim of changing the rules.
He said members had assumed the policy meant they should not make decisions on planning applications before debating them in public, but that the whip system should be used to make big decisions.
Alex Jack, the borough’s solicitor, told the committee his view on the matter was that it was “an oversight” but it was not a breach of policy
The committee debated the policy, agreeing it was confusing, although Labour councillor Mary Temperton did say if it was “taken literally” it was a breach.
Cllr Cliff Thompson said the existing policy was “open to interpretation” and needed to be clearer.
After around 40 minutes of debate, the committee agreed the decision was an unintentional breach of policy.
The committee will now prepare a report which will detail the changes to the policy.
The SADPD plans sets out where new housing will be built around the borough in the next 15 years, particularly in Binfield, Warfield and Crowthorne.