• Sep 24, 2021:
    • Ironbridge: Crucial Much Wenlock traffic report withheld - it stinks

      The biggest planning decision in Shropshire Council's history is edging towards becoming a scandal. I would not be surprised if it ended up in court.

      One of the reasons councillors originally rejected the application for 1,075 homes was because of the increased traffic pressure on local roads, especially the Gaskell Arms Junction in Much Wenlock.

      Now we learn that a crucial report on traffic impact on the Gaskell Arms Junction was not made available by Shropshire Council to committee members and the public before the meeting, even though it was commissioned to inform the planning committee.

      It is unacceptable that a report produced to inform councillors was published two days after they made their decision on Monday. This stinks of bad practice and poor planning management.

      Why didn't we see this report? It was commissioned by Haworth, the developer of the scheme for 1,075 dwellings. The first version of the report was sent to Shropshire Council on 30 June 2021. That report has not been published on the planning portal in contradiction to best practice.

      A second version of the report was issued on 9 September 2020. This followed the Southern Planning Committee's rejection of the planning application on 10 August citing increased traffic at the Gaskell Arms Junction as one of the principal reasons. But the second report from ADC Infrastructure was not made available to councillors until it was published on the planning portal two days after the planning committee had approved the scheme.

      As a committee we were blindsided by this. We rely on the officer reports for guidance but also delve into technical files that are flagged up in the officer report. And we browse the planning portal for reports and comments. For such a significant report not to reported and made available to councillors is unprecedented in my experience.

      The report to the Southern Planning Committee referenced a report from ADC Infrastructure dated 2 July. There was also a statement in the report that there was an updated assessment for the Gaskell Arms Junction.

      I had presumed, as I think other committee members may have also, that this related to the 2 July report. But the only relevant report was the 9 September report and this was not made available to councillors.

      I am not suggesting that Southern Planning Committee members were misled at their meeting on 20 September. But I am saying that committee members were not sufficiently informed and that best practice in in making planning decision failed in this application.

      I understand that a challenge is underway to Shropshire Council having brought the application back to committee after it had been refused on a convoluted argument about an untoward email. Then was the issue of a vote by a member of the committee who had not been present for the entire discussion.

      I am beginning to conclude that Shropshire Council has been out of its depth on this application. The application has been too big for it to handle.

      I am in favour of development of the former power station site - I think the whole planning committee is - but we need to get the right scheme and approve it in the right way.

  • Sep 23, 2021:
    • Shropshire Council reshuffles its cabinet after Charmley steps down

      Steve Charmley (Whittington) stepped down from Shropshire Council's cabinet today. He had been in the cabinet since the unitary council was founded and deputy leader for six years. Steve has withdrawn for health reasons but will remain councillor for Whittington. We wish him well. He has also told BBC Radio Shropshire that the pressure on social media was becoming intolerable.

      Ed Potter (Loton) replaces Charmley, taking with him his portfolio for economic growth, regeneration and planning.

      Dean Carrol (Battlefield) picks up Charmley's infrastructure portfolio, that's mostly roads. He will be challenged on sustainable transport and active travel which have fared badly in council meetings this week.

      Simon Jones (Shawbury) gets the portfolio for Adult Social Care and Public Health.

      The reshuffle was announced immediately the today's council finished after a five hour meeting. Steve Charmley was on form throughout his last performance at the high table. He pushed back against motions that tried to increase sustainable transport and voted against those urged the council to tackle the climate emergency more quickly. In Ludlow, he has never shaken off his reputation for closing the Coder Road waste and recycling centre, despite two consultations in which all residents said we wanted to retain it. He has been a huge champion for Oswestry, securing millions for roads and infrastructure.

      Will Charmley's retirement from the political front line mean that at last the council can progress on green issues? I doubt it. Charmley drove the infrastructure portfolio. For Shropshire Council, infrastructure has meant little more than roads, roads and roads. Just one per cent of its highways budget goes into active travel, walking and cycling.

      Charmley has been replaced by Dean Carroll, who one held the climate change portfolio along with adult social care and health. Carrol made it clear at one council meeting that he did not believe that the aim was to reduce the number of vehicles, just how they are powered. He is a huge supporter of the North West Relief Road. He once voted to extend the M54 to Shrewsbury. Although younger than many members of the cabinet, he is an old school Tory, often adopting a sneering tone when addrssing the opposition. He is a bad choice for a council that needs to modernise. From his perspective, his latest appointement is perhaps another step on his apparent ambitions to become leader of the council.

      Ed Potter steps up to become Deputy Leader, Economic Growth, Regeneration and Planning. We need to see how he shapes out. He already had the economic growth and planning portfolio but we have not seen a great deal of what he is delivering.

      Simon Jones gets the portfolio for Adult Social Care and Public Health, once held by Dean Carrol.

      The rest of the cabinet remains the same.

  • Sep 22, 2021:
    • Councillors challenge planning committee vote on Ironbridge

      Four councillors are objecting to the vote that approved the huge development of 1,075 homes on the former power station site at Ironbridge. Councillors Andy Boddington, Tony Parson, Caroline Bagnall and Richard Huffer have written to Shropshire Council's legal team saying that one councillor should not have been allowed to vote.

      Precedent and probity dictate that planning committee councillors cannot vote if they had not listened to the entirety of the presentation by officers, along with representations by objectors, supporters and the developer. Councillors on the committee must also be present during the subsequent debate leading up to the vote.

      One of the Southern Planning Committee councillors left the committee room during the Ironbridge debate for a short period. Despite this he was allowed to make a statement and vote without having heard the full arguments.

      We believe the vote was invalid and should be retaken to ensure that it meets the standards and probity that is required for determination planning applications.

      If this councillor had not voted, the application would still have been approved by five votes in favour to four votes against - instead of six to four. But there is a point of principle at stake here. Can councillors be allowed to vote on an application they have not heard in full? We think not and we think the vote on Tuesday was invalid.

      To council officers and the chair of the Southern Planning Committee

      At the last planning meeting on Ironbridge, the Southern Planning Committee voted by six votes to four in favour of the application. However, one of the voters in favour, Councillor David Tremellen, had not been present for the entire agenda item. Estimates vary for his absence.

      On returning Councillor David Tremellen indicated that he wished to speak. The chair of the meeting, councillor David Evans said to him:

      "You have been out for part of the debate. You have been absent for part of the debate. [But] you can speak."

      Councillor Tremellen spoke briefly. And then he took part in the vote.

      We understand that it is clear rule that should a member leaving a planning committee during discussion of a planning application, that member cannot resume the debate and most importantly cannot vote on the application. Such a vote would introduce a suggestion at least one member of the planning committee was not fully informed before the vote.

      Our belief is that the vote on Monday was not valid. We are calling for work on awarding the planning application to be paused. We also ask for the vote to be held again to ensure its legitimacy.

      Andy Boddington, Shropshire Councillor for Ludlow North

      Caroline Bagnall, Shropshire Councillor for Broseley

      Tony Parsons, Shropshire Councillor for Bayston Hill, Column and Sutton

      Richard Huffer, Shropshire Councillor for Clee.

      Addendum

      This is the recording of the exchange between Dave Evans and Dave Tremellen. It is indistinct to my aging ears at one point. If anyone can produce a better transcript, plese add to the comments.

  • Sep 20, 2021:
    • Ironbridge housing - because of an email a planning battle was lost

      This afternoon, the Southern Planning Committee approved the controversial application for more than 1,000 homes at the former Buildwas power station having rejected the scheme at its meeting on 10 August. There was an improved offer on the table, not improved enough in my view, but the committee voted by six votes to four to approve outline planning permission for the scheme.

      But if it was not for an untoward email, the rejection of the scheme would have stood and an appeal by developer Haworth would be underway. Those who oppose the development, in principle or detail, will rue the day that email was sent. Because of an email, a planning battle was lost.

      I do not oppose the Ironbridge development. I just want to get the right scheme.

      At its meeting in June, the Southern Planning Committee voted to defer a decision to get a better deal on affordable housing and traffic impacts on Much Wenlock and more information on the impact on local health services. When the application returned to the committee on 10 August, the proposal was largely unchanged and the committee voted to reject the application by eight votes to two. Then Haworth, which had stubbornly told the committee that they could not change the level of affordable housing or address other issues, put another offer on the table.

      On 31 August, Haworth sent a letter to council planners setting out its response to the issues raised by the committee members. Then on 9 September, Haworth submitted the improved offer with 10% affordable housing, most of which is likely be extra care housing that's already in the plans. But will be secured as affordable homes rather than sold or leased on the open market. There is more health money for the Clinical Commissioning Group, though with the loss of a reserved plot for a health centre on the development. More money will be provided to alleviating traffic problems from the scheme by raiding the sustainable transport budget.

      During today's meeting, officers revealed that the Southern Planning Committee's refusal of the application "the next day" after 10 August. But as the planning committee had deliberated, all members of the committee were sent an email 14:44pm. That email concerned the probity of the viability assessment and the checking of the assessment by Shropshire Council's consultants. I can't imagine any council member so much as glanced at the email during the meeting. I certainly didn't even look at it. However, the email was a lobbying action that could have put the council in jeopardy of judicial review if it had influenced members. Today officers told us they needed to seek legal advice. That must have taken some days and by then Haworth had made the revised offer. The council was obliged to consider that offer and that is why the planning committee was uniquely recalled today.

      There are arguments for and against the current scheme at Ironbridge. But this is no way to decide one of the most important planning decisions since the unitary authority was established in 2009. Because of an email, a planning battle was lost. And above all, we did not get the best scheme we could have got.

      My statement at the planning meeting

      It would not surprise me if the planning committee approved this application today. The pressure to do so is intense as the late papers make clear. Councillors also face the prospect of having to defend their decision in front of barristers at a planning appeal, should they refuse the application. That is a lot of pressure for us lay members of the planning committee.

      But the degree of pressure on us does not absolve us from our duty to make the right decision. A decision must be right in terms of our planning policies. It must be right for the future of our communities. And for a site of this magnitude, it should be an exemplar for our county and beyond.

      There are many attractive aspects of this scheme and I find the concept of a new settlement at this location quite exciting.

      But to make the settlement sustainable we need mixed communities. We are still struggling to get the 20% affordable housing required by the local plan.

      Although we are told there is hope of Homes England coming to the rescue of affordable housing and perhaps also a local provider, we are at this stage offered specialist housing. This was already in the scheme and the extra care homes will become part of the S106 obligation. This means that they will be provided by a registered social landlord and that will be welcome.

      If the extra care scheme doesn't come off, then Haworth is promising First Homes, private homes sold at 30% of the market value.

      My feeling is that neither of these options gives us the social mix we are trying to achieve for a sustainable settlement of this size and importance.

      The difficulty of achieving social mix will not go away while we are capped at 10% affordable housing and not the policy compliant 20%.

      We are a county which is failing on delivering affordable housing, just 14.4% of homes were affordable in the last reporting period.

      Sustainable transport is essential for a huge scheme like this. Yet because there is no immediate demand on the sustainable transport fund, it is being raided for the Gaskell Arms junction, CCG and Buildwas school. These needs are important. But if this new Ironbridge settlement is to be genuinely sustainable, we need money to fund active travel and public transport schemes.

      As always, as we see here, buses are last in line. People without cars are last in line. Climate change commitments are last in line. The prospect of a Very Light Railway is interesting, but will it connect with Telford rail station? Or will people need to get into their cars to go to Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton?

      We are struggling to get this application approved. That is because it is not yet good enough. If we approve this, we will be undermining our new plan before it is even approved.

      I will hear what other councillors say but at this point I am still not minded to support this application, even though I support the principle of development of this site.

      Proposed development at Ironbridge
  • Sep 18, 2021:
    • Lib Dem Leader attacks secret debate on Shrewsbury's shopping centres

      A call to oppose the exclusion of the press and public before Shropshire Council debates the future of Shrewsbury's Shopping Centres next Thursday has been made by the Leader of Shropshire Council's Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor David Vasmer (Underdale).

      "It's a disgrace," commented Cllr Vasmer. "£51 million was spent by Shirehall's Tories on buying Shrewsbury's shopping centres and now they are worth just over £12m - that's a loss of nearly £39m. Just think of the improvements that could have been made, not just in Shrewsbury, but throughout Shropshire with that sort of money."

      "Now adding insult to injury, the latest plans for the shopping centres will be debated in private at Shropshire's Council Meeting next Thursday. Plans that were going to be debated in open session have now been circulated privately to councillors who will vote on a motion to exclude the press and public before they are debated in private."

      "I will be urging councillors of all parties who believe in open government to oppose the motion to exclude the press and public next Thursday. I will also be calling for a named vote so that Shropshire's residents can see how their councillor has voted.

      "There is one reason for the shopping centres being discussed in private - they are an embarrassment for Shirehall's Tories who have squandered millions but plead poverty when residents want something done.

      "Their financial mismanagement knows no bounds and makes a mockery of the Council's much vaunted commitment to value for money and decisions based on intelligence! Another commitment is to continuously improve performance - but the opposite seems to be the case.

      "Something is seriously wrong in Shirehall. We have years of plans being scrapped or changed radically. Road trials in Shrewsbury have been halted mid trial or even before they have started. Only a few years ago, Shirehall was to have a glamour makeover with shops and for let offices. Then the civic centre was to go into Pride Hill. Now it will go elsewhere but we councillors are not allowed to tell the public or the press what the latest ideas are.

      "That's why we are calling for the paper on the shopping centres to be published before the council meeting. Everyone in Shrewsbury and across the county has the right to see what is being proposed. They have a right to discuss it with their local councillor before any decisions are made at next Thursday's council meeting."