Council violated ‘principle of democratic consent”
- Credit: Archant
Council accused of violating ‘principle of democratic consent” faces confidence vote
An unusual – if not extraordinary – attempt to oust an entire parish council culminates in a parish poll on June 10.
More than 1,000 villagers in Wilburton will be asked to endorse or reject confidence in the nine councillors.
It follows the results of a survey in 2020 that showed a majority of villagers opposed a complex housing proposal by the Stretham and Wilburton Community Land Trust.
Outline planning for 115 homes at Camps Field is being considered under a scheme drawn up by the trust in conjunction with Laragh Homes and endorsed (at the time) by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.
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Eighty homes – including five self-build plots – are included with 35 additional homes being described as ‘affordable’.
There is also a proposal for commercial units and up to 27 acres of public open space.
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Despite their own survey opposing the scheme, the parish council endorsed support for the scheme – prompting an outcry from protest group Save Wilburton from Overdevelopment.
And at the annual parish council meeting last month, and on a majority vote of 18-2, a parish poll was supported.
Save Wilburton from OverDevelopment says their group is concerned about lack of democracy and accountability.
Their spokesperson said: “Wilburton Parish Council asked our community a question in a survey -do you want 115 houses built at Camps Field by Laragh Homes?
“The community responded - it very clearly said ‘no thank you’”.
The spokesperson recalled that the survey received 179 responses, from 99 households: 102 strongly opposed, 33 opposed, 11 neither opposed nor were in favour, 16 in favour, 17 strongly in favour.
“The parish council decided that the 33 who were ‘in favour’ represented our community, rather than the 135 who ‘opposed’”, said the spokesperson.
“We feel this violates the principle of democratic consent.
“That is why a vote of no confidence was called, and why it passed 18-2 at the full-room annual parish meeting.”
The group says it is run by no individual, receives no backing from any individual, and is beholden to no one.
It says: “The issues are important for our village. Democracy matters. Consent matters. Community matters.
“We all love Wilburton. Save Wilburton thinks that the Camps Field plan will harm our village, but most importantly, we believe in democracy, accountability, transparency and consent.
“It is the purpose of the parish poll (to be held on Thursday 10th, 4pm-9pm) to allow Wilburton to have its voice heard.”
The group says it has been “disappointed and saddened” by personal attacks on a village Facebook group.
They point out that the right for 10 (or more) electors to call a parish poll is enshrined in the Local Government Act 1975.
“This Act is there so that communities can address questions relating to democratic consent in a proper fashion,” it says.
The parish council says simply that “there was a vote of no confidence at the annual parish meeting and this is the poll that was demanded”.
And they reminded residents that everyone on the electoral roll can vote.
The parish council is made up of an employed clerk and nine volunteer councillors.
However at the crucial meeting that supported the Camps Field housing scheme, there were only five parish councillors. Of the five who opted to support it, three were trustees of the Stretham and Wilburton Community Trust.
When the poll was called last month, one councillor resigned on the spot and walked out of the annual meeting, so now there are only four parish councillors, three of whom are SWCLT trustees.
9 is the total number allowed to serve on the PC.
Last year Charles Roberts, who chairs the CLT, said: “We have engaged, we have held exhibits and the community has helped shape these plans.
“This will be a high-quality development with a focus on green space and amenities that the whole village can enjoy.”
Mr Roberts is a former leader of East Cambs Council and until last month was the £56,400 a year part-time housing adviser to former Mayor James Palmer.
But he has remained “passionate in defending the SWCLT because I know what is at stake here”.
He said: “Local, often young people, are being failed by the housing system and forced out of the place they call home through no fault of their own.
Mr Roberts believes the opposing group has staged a “concerted attempt to torpedo these CLT homes by any means”.