The Wokingham Paper

Conservative councillor quits to go independent

Cllr Gary Cowan
Cllr Gary Cowan pictured moments after he announced his resignation from the Wokingham Conservatives group Picture: Phil Creighton

A CONSERVATIVE councillor who was elected after opposing plans to build on Grazeley has resigned the party whip over the same issue two decades on.

Cllr Gary Cowan revealed his bombshell at the end of a fiery meeting of Wokingham Borough Council on Thursday, November 17. He gave the council’s secret plan to build more than 15,000 homes at Grazeley as the reason.

The project was leaked to the media last month and, if it goes ahead, will see green fields turned into a garden village. 

The Crag Oak planted in Grazeley village green by John Redwood in October 1998
The Crag Oak planted in Grazeley village green by John Redwood in October 1998

In the 1990s, the Conservatives campaigned against a Liberal Democrat plan to build 2,500 on the site and Wokingham MP John Redwood planted a tree with a plaque as a promise that no homes would ever be built on the site.

He also slated the council’s Conservative ruling party for adopting plans to build 856 new homes per year up to 2036, “overruling the formal agreed existing local plan number of 661”.

The meeting, which included a debate on Hare Hatch Sheeplands garden centre and saw Councillors agree to defy the recommendations of an independent panel over their expenses, ended with Cllr Cowan’s resignation and left a large chunk of the agenda untouched.

Cllr Gary Cowan’s statement – ‘It is a matter of conscience”

After the meeting Cllr Cowan released a statement.

He said: “It is with regret I must inform the council that with immediate effect I am resigning the Conservative whip at Wokingham Borough Council after 20 years of loyal service.

“It is on a matter of conscience as I oppose the Grazeley Expression of Interest [which was] secretly submitted to the government without the public or even members of this council being informed and which the leader of the council subsequently got Conservative group agreement retrospectively with the exception of two Councillors voting against it, of which I was one.

Grazeley - a secret plan to build a 15,000 home garden village was revealed last month
Grazeley – a secret plan to build a 15,000 home garden village was revealed last month

“In addition, the Council’s adoption of the new housing numbers of 856 per year ago was based on, as I see it, a dubious technical survey but which is not in use by the Council.

“It is extended up to 2036 introduced again by this administration without any public consultation or public enquiry so overruling the formal agreed existing local plan number of 661 agreed by public consultation, debate in this chamber and a formal public inquiry.

“The council also sees the 856 houses a year as the starting figure for the new evolving local plan.

“With Arborfield now threatened by 29% of its green space being built on and the whole borough at risk to being concreted over I cannot support a Conservative administration that seems to want compile such damage to our borough at large.

“I am quite happy to continue in my role as chairman of Loddon Home Limited as it’s an honourable vehicle designed to deliver affordable housing to our residents. As the Homes and Community Agency require registered providers which Loddon Homes are to have boards that function as independent bodies as an independent councillor I am quite capable of continuing to fulfil that role.

“Thank you.”

We will have an exclusive interview with Cllr Cowan and reaction from the local parties in next Thursday’s Wokingham Paper

The Crag oak planted by John Redwood overlooks Grazeley's green fields
The Crag oak planted by John Redwood overlooks Grazeley’s green fields

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