Following the recent adoption of the controversial South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) Local Plan, the ruling LibDem/Green coalition has now lost its majority.

As a result of the decision to adopt, Cllr Sue Roberts and Cllr Sarah Gray have  resigned from the Greens and the LibDems respectively, to sit as part of a new group called the South Oxfordshire Residents’ Team (SORT).

Leader of SODC Cllr Sue Cooper (Lib Dem), who has also faced calls from the Conservatives to resign after voting against the Plan, acknowledged the loss of their majority and said they will work with other parties on an ‘issue by issue basis’. 

A recap of the extraordinary full council meeting, at which the plan was adopted, and which led to the resignations, is provided by DevComms director Charles Bushe.

And finally, the saga of the South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) Local Plan has reached a conclusion. Although far from unanimous, the council voted to adopt the plan at its full council meeting last week. 

As expected, a final flurry of impassioned debate took place at the meeting, as members of all political parties presented their view on matters. 

Although Cllr Anne-Marie Simpson, Liberal Democrat cabinet member for planning, was recommending that the council adopt the plan, it was clear that the LibDem and Green members wanted to pin the purported unpopularity of the plan on the Conservatives; they repeatedly referred to ‘this Conservative plan’ whilst taking responsibility for supposedly beneficial changes made through the main modifications.

They made claims throughout of ‘bullying’ from the Secretary of State, with grandiose statements about ‘the death of democracy’, the ‘laughable’ Conservative commitment to devolution and the ‘intervention and the bullying’ from central Government.

Cllr Leigh Rawlins (Lib Dem) said that this will be an example for the future of how ‘not to do a plan’ and Cllr Simpson (Lib Dem) called it an ‘unheard of attack on local democracy’. Cllr David Rouane (Lib Dem) succinctly declared that ‘resistance is futile’.

The Greens, who share control of the council with the Lib Dems, unsurprisingly supported this point of view, with Cllr Sam Casey-Rerhaye (Green) outlining the perceived non-choice ‘between adopting the plan or having the plan thrust upon us’.

They asserted that they had kept their election promises by seeking to change the plan (Cllr Robin Bennett), whilst at the same time bemoaning the plan in its current form. Cllr Sue Roberts (Green) proclaimed that they would shortly be welcoming people to ‘South Concreteshire’.

Conversely, the Conservatives sought to present themselves as a serious party of governance, as they said that it is the duty of councillors to make ‘difficult decisions’ when required, and Cllr Caroline Newton (Con) stated that their decision on the plan should be a ‘rational decision based on advice from experts’.

The Conservatives (ie Cllr David Bartholomew) wanted to make clear that, whatever decision was reached by the council, it would be the ‘South Oxfordshire Plan’ rather than the ‘Conservative Plan’

Cllr Ian Snowden, (Con) wanted to ascribe responsibility for the decision to the administration of SODC, given that the ruling coalition had the numbers to sway the vote either way.

As was to be expected, Cllr Stefan Gawrysiak and Cllr Ken Arlett, both representing Henley Residents’ Group, supported the plan and aligned with the Conservative narrative.

Cllr Arlett talked about ‘rudderless leadership’ and Cllr Gawrysiak questioned how the Lib Dems could support the plan, as he said it conflicted with their democratic mandate.

The machinations around the Local Plan were never going to end with a whimper as all parties involved were trying to protect their reputations, defend their contributions and deflect any blame.

This was not just a discussion around adoption of the plan, but a fight for the future electoral prospects of each party. Only time will tell which narrative wins the day. And only time will tell which party emerges the stronger.

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