Sir – Duncan Enright has not told your readers the entire story in his comments about West Oxfordshire District Council’s approach to public engagement and affordable housing (letter and news, February 3).
The district council is committed to openness and is always pleased to hear any ideas that will engage the public further in this business. The objection is that a working party is not needed to do this. The reason is that it costs officer time, which costs taxpayer money. Suggestions can – and are – considered as they arise.
Turning to his letter on affordable housing. As the cabinet member responsible for housing at WODC, I am acutely aware of the need for housing for our young people and those on the Council waiting list. However, Mr Enright was not proposing anything constructive, or asking for a debate. What he wanted was no more than for us to sign up to a website.
A website assisting what he calls “greedy developers” in his letter. When he tells you that “a number of councils” have signed up to the campaign, he is right. Ten have. Ten, out of 378 housing authorities in the UK. What is the reason for this low level of support? Because signing up to such a campaign can be used against a local authority at a planning appeal. I wonder, if WODC lose an appeal in which a signature on a website was quoted against the council, costing taxpayer money and leading to inappropriate development in Witney, will Mr Enright still consider that his website gesture was such a good idea?
Funnily enough, I pointed all this out to Mr Enright at the meeting, but when listing my colleagues’ comments, he has not listed those uncomfortable facts. I wonder why?
The point is this: the controlling Conservative group at WODC has a long record of getting things done, not in creating working parties and signing petitions. Those cost money, waste time, and achieve nothing. They are the actions of activists, not of those trying to squeeze the last penny of value out of taxpayers’ hard earned cash. Providing “the right homes, in the right place, at the right price” is something that I and all Conservatives wholeheartedly support, but it is achieved by the hard work of a properly thought out local plan, which is under way, rather than gestures on websites.
I for one am delighted to hear about any ideas that improve the public’s involvement in council business, or which increase the amount of much-needed housing – from any party. All Mr Enright needs to do is speak to us. Otherwise, when he constantly proposes surprise motions and then complains to the newspaper, is it any wonder that people think he is just interested in creating copy for his election leaflets?
The lesson is clear. If you want talk, vote Labour. If you want something done, vote Conservative.
District councillor, The Bartons Ward, WODC
Cabinet member for housing & communities