11:00AM, Thursday 02 February 2017
Greenbelt champion Cllr Leo Walters has spoken out after he was sacked from a Royal Borough panel, saying it was ‘unfair’ and ‘no way to treat a councillor’.
Voices were raised and tensions ran high during the planning and housing overview and scrutiny panel on Monday, which saw Cllr Leo Walters (Con, Bray) interrupted more than six times by the newly elected chairman Cllr Richard Kellaway when trying to make a statement about why he was ‘sacked’ from the panel.
Last week, the Advertiser reported Cllr Walters was removed from the panel, of which he was chairman, by council leader Simon Dudley, after he sent an email to panel members highlighting the fact 86 per cent of total land proposed to be allocated for housing and new development in the draft local plan would be in the greenbelt.
After asking to make a statement several times, Cllr Walters was told he would have to wait until a new chairman was elected, before addressing his question to him.
He said: “It’s very easy to go along with this because this is a matter of trying to keep me quiet.
“It's most unfair, trying to shut me up, I refuse to be shut up on this issue as its so important to the Royal Borough.”
After Cllr Kellaway was elected chairman, Cllr Walters attempted to make his statement but was interrupted multiple times by Cllr Kellaway.
He said: “I didn’t want to have to make a statement, what has happened is a resident phoned me on January 3 and told me he had a Freedom of Information request, he had discovered 86 per cent...”
Cllr Kellaway abruptly interrupted Cllr Walters to say the statement had to be related to the chairmanship and he should ‘get to his point’.
Cllr Walters explained the statement was relevant because it explained why he was removed from the panel, and why he is no longer chairman.
Cllr Kellaway said: “I’ve got to stop; this is nonsense, I’m quite happy to discuss this after, if you carry on, I will have to ask you to be removed.”
Cllr Walter continued: “I don’t care about the chairmanship, but I do care about protecting the greenbelt.
“If I can return to what I was saying, the resident phoned me saying 86 per cent of the housing and development was in the greenbelt, that was complete news to me.
“I have asked the leader of the council on four occasions – two emails, we’ve spoken on the phone, and I left a voice mail saying let’s discuss this face to face. He refuses to.
“I advised this cabinet and the sub-committee which was my obligation.
“To remove me from the panel is not a way to treat any member of staff.”
When is 86% of land in greenbelt not 86%?
Cllr Walters was sacked from the planning and housing overview and scrutiny panel for sending an email to members about his concerns that 86 per cent of the land allocated for housing in the local plan was in the greenbelt – a figure now disputed by the council.
His figure of 86 per cent comes from a Freedom of Information request from resident Patrick Griffin.
The request identified which of the 48 allocated sites in the local plan consultation were in the greenbelt, which is 26.
The request asked for the hectarage in the allocated sites that is greenbelt, the hectarage that is greenbelt that is previously developed land, and the hectarage in the rest that would be brownfield/ urban.
The total hectarage of the allocated land is 305ha and out of this 262ha is in the greenbelt, which is 86 per cent.
But Cllr Derek Wilson (Con, Oldfield), the cabinet member for planning, has called the 86 per cent figure ‘misleading’.
He said: “86 per cent is incorrect because it gives a false impression we are building on every part of greenbelt, this is simply not the case. We are taking out 1.7 per cent of greenbelt land.
“The Royal Borough is 83 per cent greenbelt, and of that we are only taking out 1.7 per cent.
“We can’t build on every part of a site with housing because we will have to provide open space. The figure of 86 per cent includes the whole land take, and previously developed land which is not ‘virgin’ greenbelt. They should be using the number of dwellings, not the amount of land. Some sites will also remain in the greenbelt after and their designation won’t change.
“The allocated need of units is 14,298, and a total of 5,929 are in greenbelt sites. This is 41 per cent.”
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