Redbridge councillors rebel over planning committee minutes

Redbridge councillors angered by the apparent erasure of their concerns about disabled parking have ignored legal advice and defied a senior officer.

The council’s planning committee, made up of nine Labour and two Conservative councillors, voted last night (December 9) not to accept the minutes of the previous meeting (November 19).

Councillors had voted at the November meeting to refuse plans to build 15 homes on Mont Rose College’s car park, which would have reduced parking for disabled students to only two bays.

However, their concern that this would amount to discriminating against the college’s 75 disabled students was left out of the minutes after the head of planning argued it was not a “worthwhile reason” for refusing.

The vote, usually a formality, saw only three Labour members agree the minutes written by head of planning Brett Leahy were an accurate reflection of the previous meeting.

Cllr Paul Canal (Con, Bridge) said: “If we, as a committee, spend three and a half hours discussing something and then that has to go through Mr Leahy to be approved, I do not see why we bother meeting.

“I was told we could not have certain reasons (in the minutes) because it was not discussed in the meeting. I did the painful job of listening to the whole meeting and we had discussed it.”

On November 19, councillors disregarded warnings from Mr Leahy that the council risked having to pay the developer if it successfully appealed against a refusal on invalid grounds.

He insisted that, because officers did not feel the plans broke anti-discrimination laws, councillors could not decide they did as officers “would never be in breach of legislation”.

However, Cllr Canal replied that assessing the effect of plans on marginalised groups was “sometimes a matter of judgement”.

Explaining his reasons for objecting to the minutes last night, he added: “I have no desire to put the council at risk of costs but I’m also keen to put up a good case if this does go to appeal.”

Legal officer Andrew Swaffer explained concerns about discrimination were not included in the minutes because committee chair Cllr Jyotsna Islam (Lab, Aldborough), who voted for the development, “decided she could not agree”.

Reasons for refusal must be agreed by the spokesperson for both parties, in this case Cllrs Islam and Canal, after the meeting to be included in the minutes.

A number of Labour councillors had expressed their objection to reducing parking for disabled students during the course of the meeting.

Only the committee chair and vice-chair, Cllr Islam and Cllr Paul Merry (Lab, Wanstead Park), and Cllr Singh Bola voted in favour of the minutes.

Cllr Islam and Cllr Merry were the only two members to vote for the development in November, while Cllr Singh Bola abstained.

Both Conservative councillors – Cllr Canal and Cllr Michael Duffell (South Woodford) – voted to reject the minutes, having also voted against the development. 

They were joined by Labour councillors Cllr Hannah Chaudhry (Chadwell), Cllr Vanisha Solanki (Fullwell), Cllr Shamshia Ali (Cranbrook) and Cllr Gurdial Bhamra (Clayhall), even though the latter two councillors abstained on the decision in November.

Mr Swaffer said “conflicting bits and pieces in the constitution” meant it was not entirely what should happen now but suggested officers and councillors discuss the minutes further via email.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter