Since 1909 Hansard has listed how MPs have voted in every division in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, a hundred years on and it’s still extremely difficult to find out how local councillors vote. In the creaking apology that passes for local democracy, detailed information on the breakdown of most votes taken at Cornwall Council never make it beyond the committee room. Only if a recorded vote is requested and then supported by a third of the members present is a record of everyone’s vote made. In addition, an individual councillor can request his or her name be recorded as voting for or against or abstaining on a motion.
This means that recorded votes are very few and far between. So how might we discover which councillors tend to vote through contentious planning applications and which consistently oppose them? One way is to monitor those moving and seconding resolutions (whether for approval, amendment or rejection). Names of proposers and seconder are recorded in the minutes and this at least captures the more vocal and active supporters (and opponents) of unnecessary housebuilding schemes in Cornwall.
With this in mind let’s focus on the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee to uncover some councillors’ attitudes to the hyper-development washing over us. I’ve compiled a list of all decisions on major residential developments made by this committee since the unitary authority was imposed on us. Every time a councillor proposes or seconds a resolution in favour of granting permission they’re awarded a point. Every time they propose rejection or move a substantive blocking amendment a point is taken away (Stalling amendments and ambiguous cases have been given half a point). In addition, all recorded votes and individual requests for a record at this committee have been included, with councillors gaining a point each time they vote to grant permission and losing a point if they vote against.
All councillors attending at least four meetings of the committee are tabulated below. (Although not officially members, some councillors have been regular substitutes). A high positive score means the councillor concerned has been active and outspoken in moving approval; a high negative score means the opposite.
Clearly, this is a fairly crude method and I anticipate squeals of dismay from the council bunker. The method may well be unfair on some councillors who quietly oppose hyper-development but rarely propose or second rejection. Nonetheless, the answer is in their own hands. Ensure that every important vote at Cornwall Council is recorded and bring local government into the twentieth century. (It’s too much to hope it can arrive in the twenty-first any time soon.)
Voting on major housing applications; 2013-15
|Dolley (LD, elected as Ind)||+4.0||18|
|Glenton Brown (LD)||0||27|
And here’s the record for the 2009-13 Council for all those councillors still active on the Council.
Voting on major housing applications; 2009-13
|Glenton Brown (LD)||+1.0||24|
|Eathorne-Gibbons (Ind, elected as Con)||0||5|
Intra-party differences are much more critical than inter-party. Therefore, blanket calls next May to vote Tory, Independent or Lib Dem will be thoroughly misplaced. Overall, on this measure Independents on this committee have been the most likely to be pro-housebuilding and thus in favour of a high population growth strategy for Cornwall. In the current Council, they’re followed by the Liberal Democrats, with Conservatives least keen, which is a mite contradictory given the policies of their party in central government. If we look back before 2013, while Independents were again the most likely to be vociferously in favour of granting permission, the party positions were interestingly reversed. Then, Tories were more likely to support mega-developments than were Lib Dems. Which couldn’t have anything to do with which party was in the administration at County Hall, could it?