WREXHAM Councillors have voted in favour of adopting the Local Development Plan (LDP) after two previous rejections.
Today’s (Wednesday, December 20) Extraordinary meeting saw councillors vote for a third time on the LDP.
The LDP is a requirement of local authorities by the Welsh Government to make land available for development. Wrexham’s proposed plan was drafted to allocate sites where around 8,000 homes and major developments could be built in the county borough.
The plan went out to public consultation five years ago and was examined and tweaked by the government and independent inspectors who deemed the plan sound to adopt.
However, a consortium of developers brought a Judicial Review after the council’s failure to adopt, which took place at the Cardiff Civil Justice Centre on November 29.
The Judge ordered that the council decisions in April and June be quashed and remitted the LDP back to Wrexham County Borough Council for adoption. Wrexham Council were also ordered to pay £100,000 in costs to the claimants.
The recommendation in the report to adopt the LDP was moved by Cllr Michael Morris (Con) and seconded by Cllr Dana Davies (Lab) who said “due to past actions this council, and we as elected members are now accountable to the court.”
Mayor Cllr Andy Williams made it clear that each speaker at the meeting would get five minutes each.
Cllr Robert Walsh (Ind) began by saying, “what a choice we have here.”
He explained that they “are being forced to vote against our beliefs” and added that he hoped that there would not be a “witch hunt” for members off the back of this.
Cllr Mark Pritchard (Ind) put a question to the officer for clarity, saying that it is “so important that before we take a vote we understand the consequence of our actions.”
“If we vote against this this afternoon, are we going to go to jail? What are the consequences of it?”
He also questioned the potential consequences of abstentions.
It was explained that if there is a ‘yes’ vote, it is unlikely there would be any further court proceedings and the council would not be in contempt of court, and therefore unlikely that there would be any proceedings for members who vote against, or abstain.
If there is a ‘no’ vote, the case would return to court with more costs, and there is a potential for contempt of court. There would also be the potential for the judge to hold to account individuals who vote ‘no’ in breach of a “statutory obligation to adopt the LDP” but it is unknown territory. It is however unlikely that there would be any action for those who abstain or are not present.
Cllr Carrie Harper (Plaid) spoke during the meeting, and said she was “not surprised to see empty seats in the chamber.”
She said: “This isn’t a free vote because we’ve all effectively got a gun to our heads because we’ve been told we could face prison, we could face a fine we could face the seizure of asset or ombudsman complaints if we don’t vote for a plan that we know most local people do not support.”
Cllr Becca Martin (Plaid) said that the “door this opens frankly leads us to a terrifying place. It is a sad day for democracy today.”
Cllr Marc Jones (Plaid) said that it’s the developers who took the council to court who benefit, and the “losers” are those who will suffer “ for decades”. He accused the Welsh Government of “hiding” behind developers.
Coming to the end of his speech, he said: “This group won’t be a part of that undemocratic farce.”
He added: “So as a group we are not going to grace this vote with our presence. We’re now going to leave and take our place where we feel we belong; with the people of Wrexham opposing this plan.”
The Plaid councillors then left to sit in the public gallery.
Cllr Davies was then called to speak next and said she was “losing her patience” and added that they were there “because of an unlawful decision”. She said it was about “upholding the law”.
She said: “A number of members have not shown their face or walked out of this chamber because there are other reasons that they are looking toward, or excuses that they are looking towards instead of complying with our statutory duty.”
Other councillors took turns to speak, such as Cllr Malcom King and Cllr Phill Wynn and Cllr Gary Brown spoke in favour of the adoption of the LDP.
Cllr Trevor Bates (ind) questioned the documents from court that they have not received yet, and therefore asked if the vote could be deferred so that they could have all the documents and information about the case before making a vote. This proposal did however fall.
After a break Cllr Pritchard came back to say he would be abstaining, and spoke about respect for members regardless as to how they vote, and respected each others opinions.
When it went to the vote, 26 voted for, 11 abstained and no one voted against.