A PLANNING chairman who approved two major applications in private was ousted after a mammoth seven-hour meeting at the Basildon Centre.

Tempers flared as opposition councillors ganged up to vote out Tory chairman Carole Morris, accusing her of “ignorance and arrogance”.

Mrs Morris had approved applications for hundreds of homes in Dry Street and Ballards Walk without holding a vote at a committee meeting.

Geoff Williams, Lib Dem councillor for Nethermayne, introduced the motion calling for Mrs Morris’ removal.

He also asked for a new rule that planning applications for ten homes or more must go to the vote at committee.

Mrs Morris had approved the Dry Street application using “delegated powers”, stating she believed members of the public attending a meeting would “not understand the differences between what can and what cannot be taken into consideration”.

Mr Williams said: “The idea people didn’t know the difference was deeply insulting to members and the public.”

At the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, Ukip leader Linda Allport-Hodge accused the Tory minority administration of regularly “filibustering” to ensure meetings ended without all agenda items being properly discussed.

By convention, full Basildon Council meetings end at about 11.30pm, with any remaining items put off until a later date.

But opposition councillors voted together to suspend the regulation, ensuring a debate on Mrs Morris’ position would be heard.

In spite of this, Tory councillors made numerous attempts to stop the vote, claiming Mr Williams’ motion would require assessment by officers before being brought before the council.

Tory member Andrew Baggott labelled the motion “the politics of spite”.

But Labour’s Alan Bennett said: “Of course councillor Morris did nothing illegal. However, was there an abuse of power? Probably. Was there an immoral decision? Certainly.”

To the anger of Tory councillors, opposing members brought a stop to the debate and called for a vote before Mrs Morris was given the chance to address the chamber herself.

Of the 41 councillors present, the 18 Tories backed Mrs Morris, while members from other groups all voted in favour of her removal.

Steps will now be taken to amend the council’s constitution to ensure all applications for ten homes or more go before the committee.

PLANNING CONTROVERSY TIMELINE

  • June 2013: Outline permission for 725 homes in Dry Street, off Nethermayne, is granted by Basildon Council, despite 838 objection letters and a 5,000-signature petition
  • October 2014: After raising more than £20,000 to fight its cause, the Green Action Group takes its case to the High Court in a bid to halt the development, but a judge throws out their request
  • June 2015: Formal plans for the first phase of the scheme are put on display and a formal planning application is submitted by developer Redrow
  • September 2015: Planning committee chairman Carole Morris decides to approve the “reserved matters” application using delegated powers, instead of bringing it to a meeting. She takes the same action to approve 135 homes for Ballards Walk, Laindon.

An artist impression of the Dry Street homes

Ukip councillor booted out of party

A UKIP councillor who broke ranks to vote against a proposal to reform the planning committee faces being kicked out of the party.

Thursday’s meeting included a proposal by Ukip leader Linda Allport-Hodge to change the makeup of the council’s committees.

The proposal included changing the planning committee so that no party had a majority of members, and installing Labour’s Alan Bennett in place of Mrs Morris as chairman.

Independent councillors Kerry Smith and Imelda Clancy sided with the 18 Tories in opposing it, but the amendment would have passed if the remaining 21 councillors had all voted in favour.

But Wickford Ukip councillor David Harrison decided to vote against the proposal, meaning it was defeated by a single vote.

Mr Harrison also voted against Mrs Allport-Hodge’s proposals to introduce pledges on clean energy and air quality into the council’s corporate plan.

Mrs Allport-Hodge said: “We are going to go for a suspension. The bottom line is he was elected on a Ukip ticket, but he is clearly not Ukip."

The three Wickford Ukip councillors split from the main borough Ukip group earlier this year to form their own political group.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Harrison said: “As far as I’m concerned, I made it clear I was not party to any discussion about who was going to be chairman of the planning committee.

“I wasn’t going to support a Labour chairman – I wanted someone from Ukip.”

Basildon's 'broken' politics 

LABOUR leader Gavin Callaghan claimed the controversy surrounding Mrs Morris is proof of Basildon’s “broken” political system.

Mr Callaghan told the meeting the Tory administration was ignoring voters’ wishes for a more consensual form of council rule.

No party has overall control of the authority – the 42-strong council includes 18 Tories, nine Labour, eight Ukip and three councillors from the splinter Wickford Ukip group.

Gavin Callaghan claims the Tories are going against the will of the voters

The Labour leader, who stood as parliamentary candidate for Basildon and Billericay in May, claims both he and Tory MP John Baron agreed Basildon politics was “broken” during a discussion on election night.

Mr Callaghan said: “Listening to some of the contributions tonight, it is as though the last two years never happened and the council was never placed into no overall control.”

But Tory councillors hit back by labelling motions tabled against Mrs Morris as spitefully and politically motivated.

David Dadds, councillor for Billericay East, said: “This is a sham. There is a will of the leader of the Ukip group to do anything possible to disrupt planning consent given by this council.”