As cross-party concern over the Wye Concordat grows, Ashford council’s opposition says there should be no more progress on the controversial plan without a vote.
Ashford Borough Council’s main opposition party, the Independents, has called for the Wye Concordat to be put to the vote after what they describe as ‘the breakdown of democracy in Ashford’. In the most outspoken local attack so far on the way the Concordat plan has been prosecuted in secret by the leaders of Ashford council and Kent County Council, the Independents have criticised the Tory leader, Paul Clokie, personally for keeping all members, including those of his own party, in the dark about the £1 billion attempt to build housing and commercial development in the Wye Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Peter Davison: ‘unsavoury chase for information’
Independent group leader Peter Davison told save-wye, ‘We think local government should not be party political and should follow democratic principles, which means there should be no secrecy unless essential for the good of the borough. We believe in consultation with the public that actually engages with them, not the so-called consultation that often currently occurs when the public are called to hear pre-determined policy and decisions.’
The Independents say the council should make no further attempts to influence opinion on key borough-wide issues with SEEDA, SEERA, Kent County Council or the Government without prior discussion and the agreement of council representatives.
‘On the Wye Concordat project ABC councillors should be fully informed by the leader of the council at all times. As it is we had to read about the announcement in the press and ever since we have had to play an unsavoury game of chasing him for information which he has been reluctant to provide or has just refused to do so. Unless, of course he is ignorant himself. This is all simple stuff about the breakdown of democracy in Ashford.’
The Independents are the first group on Ashford council to make a clear-cut call for no further progress on the Concordat plan without a vote. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have criticised the secrecy behind the proposal, however, and save-wye understands there is mounting concern among Conservative members at borough and county level about the way the huge potential project was put together by officials and the two council leaders without recourse to other elected members. Even Ashford’s MP Damian Green knew nothing about the project until days before its announcement, seven months after the initial Concordat was signed. Last week he criticised the secrecy involved and called for more openness on the part of those concerned.
Borough councils rarely rise up against their own leaders, however, and it would take an unprecedented revolt on the part of Ashford Tory members to derail the move to put the Concordat into the coming blueprint for the south east. Of the 43 seats on Ashford council, 25 are in Conservative hands, seven are held by the Ashford Independents, led by Cllr Davison, four are Labour, and the remaining two are ‘independent’ independents. A combined opposition vote of all the opposition members would still leave the Conservative group with a majory of eight. Given the strength of feeling on the issue, it would not be hard to find eight Conservative members with deep misgivings about it. But whether they could be persuaded to vote against their own party is another matter.
The Concordat is expected to be a major issue in next year’s borough elections when Cllr Ian Cooling will be defending what is normally a safe Tory seat for the village.