After an angry debate where the Conservative deputy Leader of Council was ordered to apologise, South Glos Tories voted to exclude most councillors from future decision making. Instead, power will be concentrated in the hands of just a few cabinet members, who can make decisions behind closed doors.
Ruth Davis, Lib Dem leader and former leader of a Cabinet in South Glos, said:
“Cabinets are the worst system we have tried. You either believe in allowing members to speak, or you do not. We have been through all the configurations – and we would always come back to the one we currently have. We shouldn’t be concentrating power like this. We were one of the first councils in the country to go back to committees, to involve as many members as possible. We achieved a 4* rating through collegiate working! Now that’s all gone.”
Deputy Lib Dem leader Cllr Claire Young (Westerleigh) proposed that the new scrutiny commission – which will question the decisions of the administration – should be chaired by a member of an opposition group.
“As liberals, we believe in open, democratic decision making. We feel that it is vital for proper scrutiny that the ruling group does not manage the meetings where the administration is being scrutinised. They shouldn’t be left to scrutinise themselves.”
Tories unanimously voted down this amendment, and another suggesting that all parties be involved in writing the new constitution.
Liberal Democrats in South Gloucestershire have slammed the new ‘devo deal’ imposed by Government on the area.
Tories and Labour across the West forced South Gloucestershire into the agreement, where a single Mayor will make decisions covering a wide area of the west, without North Somerset.
Speaking against the proposal, Cllr Pat Hockey (Frampton Cotterell) said:
“I’m going to give a cry for democracy. This isn’t devolution! It’s a mixture of blackmail and prostitution. At least Avon was democratically elected. Who’s the Mayor going to be? It could be anyone. It could be a petrol-head saying no to any public transport. I’m passionate about public transport. When the Greater London Authority was abandoned, public transport there went back 10 years. It happened to us too.
“We are not getting powers, we’re losing them, we’re not gaining democracy it’s being taken away from us. What have we here? Take it or leave it. This is a duff deal! If it’s ‘the best in the country’, there are pretty duff deals and perhaps I should cry for the whole of the UK, not just South Gloucestershire.”
Cllr Mike Drew (Yate) said: “This money isn’t index linked, and no Government can bind its successors. We have no way to know what the next 30 years will bring – but we do know that any key issue involving North Somerset, we’re pretending things stop a few miles south of Bristol’s border. if it’s really a good deal, Government would be willing to work with us to bring North Somerset in. I’m not against a combined authority, but we need to take the time to get it right.”
A council meeting in Kingswood descended into shouting over the local Tories’ intention to concrete over fields near Thornbury.
In the summer, the Council applied to the Government for funds to investigate “Buckover Garden Village”. This proposal is to build 3,000 homes straddling the A38, just to the north west of Thornbury. But the application did not go through any of the council’s democratic processes.
Cllr John O’Neill, representing Charfield said: “This document appeared out of nowhere, with “the council’s full endorsement”. It called it “an exciting prospect”. The council “fully supported” it. But it had never, ever come before a council committee to be discussed. So I asked the leader of council what democratic process it had gone through. He agreed wholeheartedly that we had processes it should have seen – and that it hadn’t gone through any of them. We are still in the dark as to how this decision was reached.”
Councillor Riddle explained at length why he supported it – but didn’t have a single word on how it had been democratically agreed.
Cllr Mike Drew, from Yate said: “What on earth is the point in questions to council when the leader simply chooses to ignore them. We have systems in this council, massive projects like this are supposed to be agreed transparently – even if we don’t like the outcome, it happens in public. This was a secret decision, with no vote and no due process. It’s an absolute disgrace.”
South Gloucestershire residents were horrified to learn that the new Metrobus routes – touted as environmentally friendly transport into Bristol – will instead run using regular buses, kitted out to a years-old environmental standard.
The Metrobus fleet was supposed to be all-new buses, with clean, energy-efficient engines, including hybrids, or bio-fuels. But at a meeting on Friday, the Joint Transport Executive is expected to agree to delay this requirement.
“We were always promised that these new buses would be clean,” said Cllr Pat Hockey, the Lib Dem transport spokes. “They were supposed to be environmentally friendly vehicles, like hybrids, or using bio-fuels. Now, the new rules are going to say any old bus from the last few years can run down the route. The bureaucrats say it’s only for the first two years. But let’s get real. The bus companies are never going to repaint old buses with Metrobus livery, and re-fit them with smart ticketing, if they only expect to use them for two years. They’re going to push to extend this, and we’re going to be stuck with them for ages.”
The proposal is now to allow any buses meeting the old Euro VI standard to provide Metrobus services instead.
“Air pollution kills hundreds of people every year in the Bristol area,” said Cllr Claire Young (Lib Dem, Westerleigh). “The bus companies have had years to prepare for this, and arrange the new, cleaner buses that they should be using on this route. There’s no excuse for relaxing the requirements at this late stage.”
Liberal Democrat councillors have won their campaign to persuade Conservative-run South Gloucestershire Council to protect open spaces it owns in Thornbury and Alveston from being built on. The council had previously refused to include them on a list of land to be designated as Local Green Space, despite Thornbury Town Council agreeing to the open spaces it owns being protected.
Cllr Claire Young, the Lib Dem Lead Member for Environment and Community Services, said:
"Well over 300 people signed our petition to have the greens at Streamleaze, Osprey Park and Down Road protected from development, which shows just how important these spaces are. We are very grateful to everyone who took the trouble to do this."
"In particular, I'd like to thank Mr and Mrs Dodd, who not only added their names to the petition, but also sent me a copy of the conditions imposed when planning permission was granted for the houses at Streamleaze Green in 1963. They clearly state that a 3 acre open space is required for recreation. I submitted this evidence to the council and with my Thornbury colleagues lobbied council officials to make them aware just how strongly local people felt. I am delighted that they have now recognised that these open spaces should be protected."
Cllr Maggie Tyrrell (Lib Dem, Thornbury South and Alveston) said:
"Greens like the ones at Streamleaze, Osprey Park and Down Road are important open spaces, well used by local people. They were created when the houses were built, so children would have somewhere to play and people of all ages would be able to walk around and meet their neighbours. So we were horrified when South Gloucestershire Council, as the owner of these spaces, initially refused to protect them. Thornbury Town Council had already agreed that the open spaces it owns should be protected in this way."
Cllr Shirley Holloway (Lib Dem, Thornbury South and Alveston) said:
"We are very relieved that the threat has been lifted from these green spaces. We all supposed that they were there forever for people to enjoy, so it came as a real shock when the Tory-run council said they would not be protected. We are delighted that they have now seen sense.”