RESIDENTS were “flabbergasted” after councillors refused to answer questions at a meeting about topics such as Botley’s West Way redevelopment.

Members of Vale of White Horse District Council declined to give verbal answers at the questions part of their regular full council meeting.

They instead said they would exercise their right to provide written answers as questions included “complicated” issues that could take time to answer.

At each monthly full council meeting councillors can ask questions, including those requested by residents, and a follow-up question if required.

Questions last Wednesday included the view of council leader Matthew Barber on the planning committee’s refusal to approve the West Way plan this month.

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The Conservative had publicly backed the plan, to flatten shops and offices for a supermarket, gym, 525 student flats and hotel.

The 15 questions also included queries about the council’s draft local plan, which sets out where major development like housing will go to 2031.

Mary Gill, who made the trip from Botley to hear views on West Way, said: “I was disappointed and flabbergasted. Many of the questions could have been answered with quite brief, factual responses, backed up with a longer written answer if required.”

Neil Cameron, 77, from Botley, attended to hear answers to questions relating to the planning process of the West Way scheme.

The former accountant said an officer informed him at the start of the meeting there would be no answers given to questions. He promptly left.

He said: “They can conceal what they want in written answers. But debate is debate and we were denied a follow-up question and the chance to debate the issues.”

Liberal Democrat Debby Hallett, a member for North Hinksey and Wytham, asked about Vale plans for free Wifi in Botley and a study into leisure facilities. She said her party asks questions to “ensure things have been thought through, and to try to keep the Tory administration accountable”.

She said: “Their refusal to engage in a democratic process was appalling.”

But cabinet member for planning Roger Cox, asked about a homes plan for Grove Airfield, said: “A lot of the questions were very complicated scenarios which would have resulted in complicated supplementary questions. They would have needed to be staffed quite carefully otherwise it could have been a very confused discussion.”

Conservative general licensing committee Charlotte Dickson, asked about air quality, said: “It’s also much more transparent as the public can see the answers in the minutes. It was a very hefty agenda and we had to get through it in a certain time.”

Mr Barber had yet to comment.

Vale of White Horse District Council spokeswoman Natalie Ellis said: “The minutes for the full council meeting will be available in early 2015. All 15 questions will be responded to in writing in due course, which is permitted under the council’s constitution.”

Questions that went unanswered

  1. What system was used to determine strategic housing sites in the Local Plan 2031? 
  2. How many council employees who have left in the last 12 months mentioned in their exit interview having difficulty affording housing? 
  3.  What response should petitioners expect from a petition presented to full council? 
  4. What’s the status of the free Wifi the Vale planned to install in Botley? 
  5. What does the council leader have to say to the people of Botley following the rejection of the West Way scheme? 
  6. When is a promised Leisure and Sports Facilities study to be completed? 
  7. As suggested in the Abingdon Herald, could the developers behind north Abingdon housing schemes also pay for the £12m conversion of Lodge Hill to a diamond interchange? 
  8. What is the latest on the redevelopment of the Charter area in Abingdon? 
  9. Can the chair update the council on the state of the Air Quality Management Areas in Abingdon, Botley and Marcham? 
  10. Can we have a brief update on the Grove Airfield s106 negotiations? 
  11. Has land been reserved in the Local Plan 2013 for the necessary widening and/or dualing along Dunmore Road and Twelve Acre Drive in Abingdon if proposed housing delivered? 
  12. What is the thinking behind the “options packages” being offered as part of a consultation on how to improve Abbey Meadow? 
  13.  How many Local Plan leaflets were printed and delivered and at what cost?
  14. Did the council review letters concerning individual election registration? 
  15. How many letters were sent to residents about the introduction of the individual election registration and at what cost?


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