FOUR councillors who defied their party leaders in a keynote Chester greenbelt vote have been punished.
Cllrs Brian Crowe, Neil Sullivan, Gareth Anderson and Myles Hogg have all had the Tory whip withdrawn on Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC).
Opposition councillors and campaigners believe the four have been taken to task for inisisting that the full council should decide the outcome of a renewed Chester student village planning application, an issue which has split the Chester community for months.
Council leader Mike Jones Jones said in a terse statement: “Four members of the group have had the whip withdrawn.”
In a comment earlier this week Cllr Mark Williams, of the Conservative group chief whip, had denied the whip had withdrawn from the four.
Labour group leader Justin Madders said: “Silence is just not good enough an people will draw their own conclusions unless there is a clear and comprehensive explanation from the Tories over these expulsions.
“This episode is doing absolutely nothing to restore confidence that this council acts with integrity.”
Councillors last week narrowly passed calls for the constitution to be changed so the full council could consider the student village application.
Cllr Jones, who supports the idea of a student village, did not attend the meeting, where 32 councillors supported the change and 30 voting against.
Cllrs Crowe, Sullivan, Anderson and Hogg were the only Conservatives to back the change, despite pressure to withdraw the request, which had been made by them along with Liberal Democrat councillor Bob Thompson.
Bell Developments want to build the 2,300-bed village and sports institute on greenbelt land between Blacon and Mollington.
Planning chiefs threw out the £100m scheme in January but brothers Mike and Dave Bell vowed to battle on and resubmitted the application in May.
However, the planning process has been overshadowed by the decision to remove Cllr Hogg, who voted against the scheme, from his post as strategic planning committee chair and replace him with Cllr Howard Greenwood, who voted in favour.
Andy Scargill, who chairs the Friends of the North Chester Greenbelt campaign group, believes the four councillors have paid the price for refusing to toe the party line.
He said: “Our view is that we are convinced they have had the whip withdrawn because they supported the motion to take the student village application to full council.”
Mr Scargill believes the vote on whether to allow all 75 councillors to decide the application was whipped.
Planning decisions must be made according to the law and must not be party political or pre-determined either way, but Mr Scargill said his group was worried the decisive vote could be ‘informally’ whipped.
He said: “That is something we are concerned about.”
A CRUNCH vote over whether the controversial student village scheme should go ahead will take place in Chester Town Hall.
Cllr Carolyn Graham, who represents Blacon, had called for the meeting to be held in Chester and not at the council chamber in Winsford, where the full council normally meets.
Her fellow councillors backed her suggestion and the assembly room in Chester Town Hall will be used for the meeting, which has been fixed for 5.30pm on Thursday, October 3.
Those councillors not currently involved in planning will have to undergo training inductions regarding planning law before the meeting.
Council officers have also confirmed the application will not be considered by the strategic planning committee this evening.
Originally it was believed the committee would be able to either defer the issue or make a recommendation on the item to full special council.
But after further legal consideration of the decision to allow the full council to determine the application, it was decided that the issue should be removed from the agenda of the strategic planning committee.
PLANNING officers have again recommended the student village application should be turned down.
Mark Lynch, development control manager, said the second application was identical to that which was refused in January in "all respects".
His report states that the scheme would be "inappropriate development" within the greenbelt and could only be approved in "very special circumstances" which the applicants had not proven.
Mr Lynch states: "No such very special circumstances have been demonstrated in this case that would allow the presumption against inappropriate development to be set aside."
He also believes the scheme would impede and obstruct important views of Chester and would have an adverse affect on the city's rural landscape.