The Greens were in the gods, the sound system was in the pits and the Speaker was stage left. As for Robert Tindall, he exited Theatre Severn stage right in Shakespearean style.
Robert, Tory councillor for Cleobury North, was dismissed from the Southern Planning Committee in a callous act by the council leader just because he voted for what his constituents believed in.
It was a dark day for Shropshire. The wrong plan for our county. And the wrong approach to democracy for our modern age. It confirmed that planning in Shropshire under the current Tory regime is about politics, not policies.
I have no love of Shirehall but its custom built council chamber works well. The high table – council leader, monitoring officer, speaker and a few others – has good sight lines over the assembled host of 74 councillors. Councillors have desks and a microphone each. The chairs are as comfortable as any can be in lengthy meetings.
That was not the case in Theatre Severn where the cobbled together sound system barely worked.
In Shirehall, it is easy to slip out to the toilet. It is not easy to do that in Theatre Severn. A toilet break has been useful for those, mostly Conservative, who do not wish to be present in the chamber when they feel a pressing need to defy a party whip. This tradition has brought a new meaning to the phrase comfort break.
There was no comfort at Shropshire Council’s marathon meeting on Thursday and only two breaks in nearly six hours.
It was a meeting dominated by a faulty sound system, pauses, inability to hear and dreadful sightlines for the speaker who could only see whether some councillors were raising their hands to speak by peering almost voyeuristically under desks. We councillors were spaced out (no jokes please) six seats and two rows apart. At the last meeting in Theatre Severn, I was in the circle. My major speech, an amendment to take the politics out of councillor’s remuneration, was delivered as though I was Juliet on the balcony. Some members could not hear my words. So, I bellowed them out. Falstaff! To be honest, I preferred that to last Thursday’s meeting when the mikes cut out every ten or fifteen seconds.
Councillors were confined to their seats. Some had extraordinary memories. They had no laptop or paperwork. Or perhaps they were there just to do what they were told.
Despite the technological and personal discomfort of the meeting, the local plan was passed unchanged on the fourth vote.
After a lengthy debate on the new local plan and a Tory revolt, councillors narrowly agreed to send it to the planning inspectorate for examination by 34 to 28 votes with five abstentions.
That was one of the closest votes in the history of the council. It is hardly a ringing endorsement of the local plan which could have been much improved if there had been another round of consultation.
My proposal to send the draft plan to be examined by the overview and scrutiny committees was lost with 29 votes for and 39 against. A motion from Julia Buckley (Labour, Bridgnorth and Tasley) to instigate a five yearly review process for settlements planned to expand by more than 5% under the new plan was rejected 37 votes to 24. A third motion from Julian Dean and the Greens was voted down by 44 votes to 22.
In the main vote, Conservative councillors Ed Bird, Lez Winwood, Robert Tindall and Christian Lea voted against the plan along with opposition councillors. Another five Conservatives abstained.
Voting against the wishes of the council leader has always been a dangerous business. Robert Tindall was sacked as vice-chair and member of the Southern Planning Committee for his vote against the plan. I am appalled that a committee member with such extensive experience of planning and who has contributed so much to getting the right decisions for the south of the county has been cast aside in a political hissy fit.
I voted AGAINST Shropshire Council’s local plan today. I had a very clear mandate from residents. The council was unable to give sufficient reassurance on employment land and the green belt from Lodge Hill remains in the plan, which residents strongly opposed. https://t.co/XP5lc6TqRi— Edward Bird (@EdwardBirdShrop) July 15, 2021
Robert Tindall is a man of principle and took a brave decision. He had campaigned to get re-elected on a platform of fighting undesirable and unwanted large scale development in the countryside including Tasley Garden Village. In a message to councillors yesterday, Robert said:
“I am sure that the Southern Planning Committee will continue to make decisions based upon Policies but also based upon Pragmatism and a kindly Disposition towards applicants to whom the consequences of the decisions have such an effect. “
We will do so but Robert’s departure is a loss to planning in South Shropshire. That matters not one jot to the Conservative leadership on Shropshire Council. Conservative councillors must do as they are told or suffer retribution.
The sacking of Tindall was not the only reason the meeting on Thursday was so miserable.
This was a meeting to record in the annals of Shropshire Council. The controversial local plan was approved to go forward to the planning inspectorate even though perhaps half the council did not believe in it. If it is approved by a planning inspector, we must live with it for thirty years. And it was a meeting that confirmed that the Conservatives care more about preserving their power base than the future of our county.