‘Councillors failing to scrutinise policy-makers’

Congresbury Residents' Action Group (CRAG).

Congresbury Residents' Action Group (CRAG). - Credit: Archant

Councillors responsible for scrutinising major housing plans have been accused of ‘dereliction of duty’ by villagers.

North Somerset Council’s strategic planning and economic development policy and scrutiny panel (SPED), has come under fire from the North Somerset Village’s Alliance (NSVA) – which has levelled claims that the committee ‘does not know what it is doing’.

The NSVA – an action group bidding to prevent large housing development in North Somerset’s countryside – believes SPED is falling short of its requirement to keep the council’s executive committee in check.

The criticism centres on proposals to build tens of thousands of homes across North Somerset in the next two decades, known as the Joint Spatial Plan (JSP), with ‘garden villages’ created on the edges of Banwell and Churchill.

NSVA secretary Viv Tomkinson has accused SPED of applying ‘no scrutiny’ to JSP decisions at meetings, but SPED chairman Charles Cave has rebutted NSVA’s claims, arguing members examine policy ‘robustly’.

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An NSVA spokesman said: “Delegates were amazed members of the SPED did not appear to know what they were doing.

“The criticism follows a recent meeting of SPED at which members did not seem to realise their function was to hold the executive to account.”

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NSVA co-chairman Mary Short, who is also chairman of Congresbury Residents’ Action Group, added: “We have looked at the council’s constitution and that is precisely their job.

“The clue is in the committee’s title – scrutiny – I don’t know what else they think is their reason for existence if not to scrutinise the executive.”

But Cllr Cave believes SPED is effective at keeping tabs on policy and the executive members’ actions.

He told the Mercury: “All panel members are aware of their responsibilities.

“The panel’s February meeting made a robust public statement to the executive expressing serious concerns regarding the JSP.

“Now the JSP has been submitted, the panel is focusing on the local plan.

“Within this process the panel is both critical of, and seeks to constructively influence and shape, the plan’s outcome.

“Best results are not always achieved by just confrontation.”

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