Posted: Fri 4th Dec 2020

“Gagged” or “postponed”? Council take legal advice and say member motion on Local Development Plan won’t appear on Full Council meeting agenda for people living in or visiting the wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Friday, Dec 4th, 2020

A motion from councillors has been stopped from appearing on the agenda for the Full Council meeting in December.

Plaid Cymru’s group of four councillors had submitted a motion to the Full Council on the 16th calling for the withdrawal of support for the Local Development Plan.

Recently there has been indications that political support has been pulled from a major part of the administration running the council, with the Council Leader now twice speaking out against the plan in the strongest terms and declaring his group’s position.

The submitted motion, which we are told has been placed in line with the council’s constitution read:

In recent weeks significant new evidence and information has emerged that undermines the basis of Wrexham’s Local Development Plan relating to:
– population projections that formed the basis of housing allocations
– drastic reductions in affordable housing
– the process of assessing highways impacts
– the process of allocating gypsy and traveller sites

As a result, this Council resolves to:
– Withdraw its support for the deposit Local Development Plan (as passed on 22 November 2018 by Wrexham CBC) as it no longer meet the needs of Wrexham’s communities in light of recent available data for the County Borough.
– Call on the appropriate Welsh Government minister to recognise that the Plan process and its content are fundamentally flawed and unsound and halt the examination by the local Plan inspector
– Call on the Welsh Government to ensure protection for greenfield sites by strengthening Technical Advice Note 1 to prevent speculative development.

As per any motion that could then be amended, supported or rejected in the meeting.

The rules on submitting motions do not contain any mention of pre-vetting, or what the contents of motions should be: “Except for motions which can be moved without notice under Rule 4.22 and in cases of urgency, written notice of every motion, must be delivered to the Chief Officer Governance & Customer 10 working days before the Council meeting at which it is to be considered. Motions received will be entered in a book open to public inspection.”

Wrexham Council has sought external legal advice on the matter, with the Legal Officer of Wrexham Council writing to all councillors to explain the move, “I have informed the members putting forward and supporting the motion that it cannot be included in the agenda for the Council meeting on 16 December.

“The proper time for consideration of the motion is when the independent examination of the LDP by Welsh Government inspectors is complete and the inspectors’ report and associated recommendations are reported to Council.”

“The reason for this is that if the motion were to be supported this could have the effect of committing the Council to acting unlawfully in the future by breaching its obligation to adopt the local development plan once the inspectors carrying out the examination have issued their recommendations and reasons.

“If the Council were to resolve now that it does not support the local development plan, there would be a risk that the Council might be regarded as having predetermined a future decision about adopting the plan.

“As Monitoring Officer I have a responsibility to ensure that the Council acts lawfully and it would not be appropriate for me to allow the Council to take a decision on the motion at this time.

“Whilst I previously indicated that the motion would be able to be included in the agenda at the December Council meeting, at that time there was a reasonable expectation that the inspectors’ report may be available in December. That is not now the position and in the circumstances it has been necessary to consider the motion put forward in the current context.”

The above communication came just after the 10 working day deadline expired for motions to be submitted, meaning an adjusted motion is not possible for December. No copies of the external legal advice have been made available to all councillors.

Councillor Carrie Harper, who submitted the motion, said: “Councillors are being gagged on a key matter of concern across the borough.

“Green fields surrounding Wrexham and neighbouring villages face becoming urban sprawl if this plan gets the go ahead and that’s why we’re calling for a review of support in light of changing facts and circumstances.”

“It’s surprising, to say the least, that an officer would pull a motion on the basis of independent legal advice at the last minutes without consulting with the democratically elected councillors who put forward that motion. We weren’t even told that she was seeking legal advice.”

“We’ll wait to see what that advice says but this is not the end of this story by any means.”

Wrexham Council take a different view, labelling the move a ‘postponement’ saying in a statement: “In September, a motion to withdraw support for the Local Development Plan (LDP) was submitted by four Wrexham councillors. It was initially thought that this motion would be able to be considered at the Council meeting on December 16.

“However, after obtaining expert external legal opinion, it’s clear the motion shouldn’t be considered until the independent examination of the LDP by Welsh Government inspectors is complete. In other words, we need to wait until the inspectors have finished. ”

“The reason for this, is that any decision to withdraw support while the examination is still ongoing puts the council at risk of undermining an important legal process.”

“So by postponing the motion, we’re protecting the council from a course of action that could lead to it acting unlawfully. It’s important to understand that the motion isn’t being stopped from going to Council for debate…it’s just being postponed.”

“Once the independent examination is complete, the motion can be included on the agenda at a meeting of the Council and considered alongside the recommendations in the inspectors’ report.”

There is a meeting between Wrexham Council and the Inspectors on the 9th, where a range of ‘very serious’ issues about the plan will be discussed, with it possible that the plan itself could be effectively thrown out before the Full Council meeting on the 16th, it is unclear if the motion would then be allowed to proceed if that scenario were to take place.

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