Conservatives attack Mendip land deal
Mendip’s Conservative Group yesterday launched a scathing attack on Mendip’s Social Housing program. The Mendip plan would see four sites being developed to provide around 160 homes. Importantly these would be social housing.
The Conservative group have focused on two issues:
- Firstly the effective preferred bidder status of Aster. The Conservative Group note that normal budgetary procedures have not been followed. No competitive tender organised. And as their press release rather dryly puts it “did not fall within 8.5.2 (d) of the Constitution and could therefore be made “not in accordance with Council’s budgetary procedures”.
- Secondly the inclusion of the Easthill site which adjoins Frome Cemetery in the plans. The Conservatives argue this is currently a designated green space. It is shown as such in the Local Plan. They decry the loss of an attractive wildlife haven with a rich and diverse ecology. As Councillor Eve Berry, the Conservative Ward Councillor, stated “It is simply ridiculous to be developing this land. There has been no consultation with local communities and no understanding of the destruction that would be caused to the wildlife and habitats at this site.”
However as we reported last week, there have been concerns about due process too. Cabinet decision to proceed with the deal on 2 November. Five Frome LibDem Councillors asked for the decision to be “called in”. In other words considered by the Council’s Scrutiny Board. Ordinarily that would involve a full debate. Questions would be raised on specific aspects of the plan. Questions that Cabinet would then be obliged to address.
Instead, the Leader intervened at the start of the meeting. She stated they would refer the matter back to Cabinet. So instead of a full debate, the Scrutiny Committee simply voted to send it back to Cabinet. And as a result, Cabinet will not have any specific objections to discuss.
Councillor Philip Ham, the Conservative Chairman of the Scrutiny Board, resigned in frustration. He told The Leveller “we are supposed to be able to scrutinise decisions taken by the Cabinet to ensure that the interests of Mendip residents are protected. This has been a stitch up. I was denied access to background papers. I was placed under pressure by Officers on how to conduct the meeting and there has been no opportunity given for proper debate and scrutiny. The Leader of the Council uses fine words in stating that her administration welcomes transparency, but her actions speak louder than her words. Her administration dithered and delayed and now they have closed down open debate on this matter, particularly with regards to the market value of these sites. It seems that they are mis-managing the Council finances to save face.”
Meanwhile the Conservative Group are seeing red. They claim the Cabinet now propose to quickly reconsider the proposals on 26th November. In their view Cabinet “seem intent on pushing them through, subject to agreeing to a review of the plans to develop the site at Easthill.”