Conservative MP Anthony Browne accuses Lib Dems of Thakeham petition ‘snub’
Anthony Browne MP has accused councillors of a “snub” over a petition against Thakeham’s plans for 25,000 homes in South Cambridgeshire.
Conservative MP Anthony Browne set up a petition calling on Liberal Democrat-led South Cambridgeshire District Council to reject the proposal for a new town to the south west of Cambridge.
The development would comprise 25,000 homes and be the UK’s “first zero-carbon community”, according to the developer.
But the petition from Mr Browne, who represents South Cambridgeshire, has been signed by more than 3,000 people.
Councillors from both parties in the area have come out against the proposed development.
The MP’s petition went before a session of the full council on Thursday (April 15), where it was noted, with no debate.
Chair of the council, Liberal Democrat councillor Anna Bradnam, said legal advice had been received from a Queen’s Counsel that “if any of these matters were debated at this council, anybody who took part in that debate would have effectively predetermined themselves in terms of any discussion of the local plan”.
“I am not prepared to allow members to accidentally fall into that trap”, she added.
Cllr Bradnam told the meeting: “Advice from our planning counsel is that according to our own constitution and petition scheme this petition cannot be accepted at council because it relates to a planning decision.
“There are serious risks to the integrity of our local plan process were we to debate this petition at the council. However we are completely committed to listening to residents and are grateful to the many people who took time to share their views. Counsel’s advice to ensure the petition is passed to the local plan team, which the monitoring officer has done, so that it can be considered as part of the wider consultation process.
“Members will have the opportunity to debate all site issues when the local plan comes before us.”
She added: “This is not within our gift to consider at council, and that is the advice we have received from our counsel”.
Leader of the Conservative opposition group on the council, Heather Williams, told the meeting: “I am very disappointed that we are not speaking on this.”
She acknowledged the advice that was received, but added: “I think as councillors we could have had some form of discussion to give some form of acknowledgement of the petition before just noting it.”
In a statement, Mr Browne said: “I was sorry to see more attention was not paid to the views of over 3,000 residents by South Cambs District Council today. It was a snub that it was noted without comment from any member of the administration.”
He added: “I understand the constraints councillors are under when it comes to any planning matters.
“But to not even allow councillors to make a judgement themselves, when members of their own administration have seen fit to throw away their votes chasing the same goal, is unusual at best and hypocritical at worst.”
He welcomed the reassurance that the petition will be considered, noting it is not yet clear how it will fit into the local plan considerations or the weight it will carry.
“I will be watching the next steps very closely”, he said.
No formal planning application has yet been made in relation to the Thakeham proposal, and the developer has said it will engage with the current local plan process, where the council will decide the scale and location of new development for future years.