Councillor 'muted' in debate over Battlemead path

Shay Bottomley
Councillor 'muted' in debate over Battlemead path

A councillor was 'muted' during a debate regarding the decision to approve a path across Battlemead Common’s East Field at a communities overview and scrutiny panel last night.

The hybrid meeting saw panel members at York House scrutinise a cabinet decision to approve the path across the field, where Cllr Donna Stimson (Con, St Mary’s) and officers were questioned over the recent decision.

The meeting was required after five councillors, namely Cllrs John Baldwin, Mandy Brar, Karen Davies, Geoff Hill and Simon Werner, called in the decision taken at cabinet in September.

Planning regulations proved to be a contentious issue throughout the evening, with Cllr Hill (tBF, Oldfield) highlighting the requirement for a planning application in the emerging Borough Local Plan for any ‘change of use’.

“As early as 2019, an application was made (19/00972/4) to change the use of agricultural land to assembly and leisure,” said Cllr Hill.

“However, it was withdrawn and has never been resubmitted. This was the intention back in 2019, and, as the leader of the council has confirmed, the motivation for a second path directly through the East Field is, as least in part, recreational.”

He added that the path did not having planning permission and said that it would be a ‘horrendous act’ for the Borough to construct the path if it went against planning policy and the law.

In response, Andrew Durrant, executive director of place at RBWM, said: “A path of this nature and screening or fencing would be considered permitted development, as far as I understand.”

“I don’t believe that what is being proposed here would require any form of planning permission, but that might be something we defer to the planning authority on just to clarify further if required.”

The absence of a definitive answer frustrated Cllr Hill when planning regulations were brought up later in the meeting.

During questioning to officers from panel members, Cllr Hill interrupted and said: “Andrew Durrant has just said he doesn’t know the answer to that question. You’ve got to stop and not proceed and let this path be built – we’ve got to see whether we need planning permission or not.”

“The officers cannot say whether it does or does not need planning permission, so the answer needs to be found and that’s what you need to do before a decision is made.”

At this moment, monitoring officer Emma Duncan stepped in an attempt to restore order. Cllr Hill said he was not going to let the council ‘shove [the path] through’ before he was ‘muted’ by chairman of the panel Cllr John Bowden (Con, Eton & Castle).

After almost an hour’s questioning, predominantly by Cllrs Catherine del Campo and Helen Price, Cllr del Campo (Lib Dem, Furze Platt) moved a motion to bring the decision to full council for debate.

Ms Duncan then provided advice to panel members as to whether she believed the decision to be outside of policy framework; as she did not believe this to be the case, Cllr del Campo was unable to proceed with her motion.

Another motion to refer the matter back to Cllr Stimson was proposed and seconded by Cllrs del Campo and Price respectively.

That motion fell, before a third and final motion, proposed and seconded by Cllrs Greg Jones and Gurpreet Bhangra, to take no further action was passed 3-2 by the panel.

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