A councillor has refused to attend future planning meetings until action is taken, in one of a series of criticisms of a Berkshire council’s democracy.

The full council meeting at Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) last night took a full three hours, starting at 7.30pm and finishing at 10.30pm.

But councillors did not manage to discuss the full agenda, despite councillors rushing through parts of the meeting in an attempt to finish on time.

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Despite attempts from opposition councillors to extend the meeting by half an hour to get the agenda finished, this was rejected by Conservative councillors who slammed the Lib Dem for “wasting time” during the meeting.

Opposition councillors called this “a complete failure of democracy”.

A motion on the council’s view on the Heathrow expansion was finally voted on, while three other motions have now been left four months without a vote after time ran out at the March meeting.

Councillor refuses to attend meetings

The council last night agreed to add its policy for virtual meetings to the constitution, which allows for public speaking on most meetings but not the planning committee.

WBC agreed that the planning committee will review its rules relating to public participation in August with a view to reporting back to council in September.

The Lib Dem group proposed an amendment to bring this forward and report back at the next full council meeting on July 23, with the next meeting after that not until September 17, but this was rejected by Tory councillors.

Gary Cowan, an independent councillor for Arborfield, said he would not attend any future planning committee meetings “until the normal rights of public participation return”.

He added: “Any public meeting that denies our members, the public and others the right to speak is clearly not democratic.

“It seems that democratic debate is an alien concept in Wokingham.”

Councillor John Halsall, leader of WBC, said the council would attempt to approve public speaking plans at the meeting on July 23 if possible, but voted against amending the motion.

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While councillor Chris Smith, chair of the consitution working group that will devise a plan for public speaking at planning meetings, called the 25-minute discussion ” a complete and utter waste of time”.

Currently only councillors and officers can speak at virtual planning meetings, with members of the public, ward councillors and applicants only able to write in.

Public participation is currently allowed at planning meetings in Bracknell, Reading, and Windsor & Maidenhead, despite Cllr Halsall claiming otherwise last night.

Motions left gathering dust

Motions on EU nationals, air pollution, council tax collection, and sprinklers at schools have now been waiting to be discussed meetings at WBC for almost four months.

Despite attempts from opposition councillors to extend the meeting, Tory councillors voted against extending the meeting by 30 mins, leaving other councillors furious.

Councillor Steven Conway said he was “very disgusted” by the decision not to extend the meeting, while Cllr Clive Jones called it “disgraceful behaviour” and Cllr Adrian Mather said “this is a complete failure of democracy”.

Lib Dem councillors had not submitted any questions to the meeting in an attempt to finally get around to the motions submitted months ago.

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One motion, which had waited 10 months for a decision, did get a vote this time around after being delayed twice due meetings running out of time.

The Lib Dems called for the council to oppose Heathrow expansion entirely in its motion, first brought to the council in September 2019.

But this was amended by the Conservative group to say the council “does not support any airport expansion unless it can be proven to be carbon neutral”.

The council agreed to the amendment, rushing through the discussion against the clock, but Lib Dem members such as councillor Sarah Kerr said “there is absolutely no way” you can expand Heathrow and be carbon neutral.

Cllr Kerr, who abstained from voting, added: “You can only prove something after the event. My concern is that we get it built and then it gets find out it can’t be met.”

But Tory councillor Laura Blumenthal said: “More people flying doesn’t necessarily mean more carbon growth.

“We need Heathrow to thrive, if it can do so sustainably.”