Independents accused of ‘squashing democracy’ as Ashfield Council local plan consumes meeting

The independent administration at Ashfield Council has been accused of ‘squashing democracy’ after not allowing opposition councillors to speak on a petition calling for its controversial Local Plan to be scrapped.

By Andrew Topping
Sunday, 5th December 2021, 10:02 am

The latest full council meeting saw members of the public attending to oppose the controversial housing document.

Councillors were presented with two petitions – with more than 9,000 signatures in total – calling for the plan to be rethought.

The concerns relate to the Ashfield Independents’ 8,226-home document, which sets out the local sites for planned housing developments between now and 2038.

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Laura Gapski, third from left, of the Bright Sparks Private Day Nursery with fellow campaigner Daniel Nightingale. They went to hand over the petition against the proposed housing development on Cauldwell Road in Sutton. Also handing over a petition, at the same time, were Hucknall Against the Whyburn Farm development campaign group members Mandy Shaw, left, and Jemma Chambers, right.

One petition related to a 3,000-home development in Whyburn Farm, Hucknall, which has led to a strong public backlash.

The petition, with more than 7,600 signatures, was submitted by campaigner Mandy Shaw, who spoke about why the plans would be “detrimental” to the town.

However, following her presentation, councillors were given 15 minutes to debate it before it was recommended to be taken to the council’s cabinet next month.

During the debate, three Ashfield Independents were allowed to speak, all blaming the Government for setting housing targets.

It meant no opposition councillors were able to give their views on the petition, despite five raising their hands to speak.

Coun Chris Baron. a Conservative, said: “There’s supposed to be a political balance in this chamber and you’ve called three Ashfield Independents and none of the opposition. That has to be fundamentally incorrect.”

Coun Arnie Hankin, council chairman, said: “I write down on my sheet the councillors who wish to speak. The first three I saw were those and you were after.”

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Speaking following the meeting, Coun Lauren Mitchell, leader of the Labour group, described the debate as ‘disgusting’.

She said: “It was squashing democracy on purpose.

“The chairman obviously chose only Ashfield Independents, so nobody else can have a voice.”

Councillors were then presented with the second petition, featuring almost 1,700 signatures, calling for 1,000-home settlement off Cauldwell Road, Sutton, to be removed from the plan.

This petition was submitted by Laura Gapski, owner of nearby Bright Sparks Day Nursery, representing a group of residents and businesses in the area.

She said: “Our members rely on the provision of calm and tranquillity.

“I represent them knowing the development will have a detrimental, negative and soul-destroying impact on the reputations they have worked to achieve over 100 years of service.

“The associated noise, light and drainage pollution has invoked tremendous disquiet, with members tearing apart the documents to find a way to axe this.”

Coun Jason Zadrozny, council leader, said: “This is a consultation. This isn’t a plan we’re foisting on anyone.

“We’re asking for people’s views, so we can look at things we’ve not looked at, but fundamentally so we can take this consultation and say we don’t want to do it. I’m pleased we can take thousands of signatures and comments to Government and say ‘don’t force this on our district’.”

A cross-party motion was then submitted by Coun Mitchell and Coun Kevin Rostance, a Conservative, calling for the plans to be redrawn.

The motion was read out but not debated, with Ruth Dennis, council monitoring officer, confirming the debate must be held by the cabinet as the committee responsible for the Local Plan.

Both petitions and the motion will be discussed by the cabinet in January.

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