New Essex County Council candidate: Housing campaigners urge residents to Lodge their vote
- Credit: Archant
A RADICAL overhaul of Uttlesford’s political landscape has been called for to better represent the views of residents in the district.
Disgruntled campaigners are unhappy with the district council’s handling of controversial housing growth plans and have issued a rallying cry for sweeping changes to be made.
Saffron Walden-based WeAreResidents.org want to see party politics abolished and the cabinet system scrapped.
It follows the group’s launch of an election campaign backing a new independent Saffron Walden candidate to stand in May’s Essex County Council elections.
John Lodge, of Common Hill, insists he can make a difference to the future housing development plan being put together by Uttlesford District Council by putting pressure on the authority from county level.
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The 67-year-old vowed to “properly represent” the views of people in the area after accusing existing councillors of having to toe the party line rather than acting in the best interests of residents.
“Party politics prevent councillors from representing people’s views and the problem has got worse since the cabinet system was brought in,” Mr Lodge told the Reporter.
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“There are a relatively small number of councillors making decisions behind closed doors and that leaves non-cabinet members unable to express their views because they are stuck on the outside.”
He added: “Councillors shouldn’t be forced to toe the party line when it is not in the interests of those they represent or a view that they share. That happens far too often at this level and I don’t think it’s right.
“It needs a number of individuals, like me, representing the views of the people.”
Top of Mr Lodge’s agenda is to put pressure on Uttlesford District Council for what campaigners have described as a “poorly-conceived” 15-year development plan. If approved, the Draft Local Development Framework would see 880 homes built in Saffron Walden between 2013 and 2028 and a total of 3,300 across the district.
WeAreResidents.org has pointed to Loughton as a blueprint for planting the seeds of change. In 1981, Loughton Residents Association put forward its first councillor to fight an application for a supermarket.
Twenty three years later it earned control of the town council by 18 members to four and, in 2010, won five new seats on Epping Forest District Council to become the main opposition group to the Conservatives.
Mr Lodge’s comments have won backing from Uttlesford’s Liberal Democrat group and a non-cabinet Conservative councillor.
Conservative Debden and Wimbish representative Cllr Tina Knight said: “I have never been a fan of the cabinet system and believe local issues should be above party politics.”
Lib Dem leader David Morson, who represents Henham and Elsenham, told the Reporter: “We have always been opposed to the cabinet system because it excludes the majority of councillors. What we liked about the committee system was that every councillor felt a part of the process and it was not just a few members involved in decision-making.”
But leader of the Conservative-run Uttlesford District Council, Jim Ketteridge, hit back.
“If a situation arose where a council had a majority of elected members who had stood as an independent, that grouping would then have to form an administration, elect a leader, appoint chairmen, and decide policies and spending commitments,” he said.
“Most councils have Independent groupings and a group leader.”
Responding to concerns about the cabinet system of governance, he added: “About 95 per cent of local authorities of all political colours operate in this way. A cabinet and its leader can only operate with the consent and will of the majority of members of the council.
“In the case of Uttlesford you have one of the most successful, low tax, high quality and responsible local authorities in the country and we are justifiably proud of that fact.”