7th Jul, 2022

REVEALED: Coventry councillor says he's been booted off planning committee - after voting against bowls club backed by council leaders

Les Reid 23rd Dec, 2019 Updated: 23rd Dec, 2019

A LONG-STANDING Labour councillor says he has been unusually removed from the planning committee at Coventry City Council – after voting against a controversial application for a bowls club, which had been keenly supported by leading councillors.

It is despite the law requiring planning committees to be politically neutral, without political interference.

It comes after Councillor John McNicholas voted against the planning application at planning committee last week for the new bowls club in Coundon, which had been opposed by hundreds of petitioning residents.

Council leaders have been accused of Stalin-style bully-boy tactics.

Coun McNicholas (Labour, Lower Stoke) himself appears to be questioning the reasons for his unceremonious removal from the committee in mid-December, judging from a private email he appears to have sent to a resident, seen by the Coventry Observer.

In it, he writes: “Thanks for your kind words.

“I did what I thought was right in committee based on planning matters.

“Just for information I have been removed from planning with immediate effect without any reason being given. You can draw your own conclusions.”

Councillors sitting on the planning committee are usually only removed in any re-shufffle after elections in May.

Matthew Batson, who has stood against Labour as an Independent and UKIP councillor in elections, said: “It seems Stalinist bully-boy tactics are still alive and kicking in Coventry’s Labour-controlled democratic utopia.”

The council had set aside £2million of taxpayers’ money for the bowls club, which leaders have said was needed due to the closure of the ‘outdated’ facilities at Coventry Sports and Leisure Centre in Fairfax Street.

The law requires planning committees to make decisions outside of political interference.

Councillors sitting on it are required to make ‘quasi judicial’ decisions – deciding how to vote purely on ‘material planning considerations’ – without outside influence from the leaders of parties they represent.

The application for an indoor bowls facility for Avenue Bowls Club in Gaveston Road, Coundon, was approved on Thursday by the majority of councillors on the planning committee, despite Coun McNicholas voting against it.

Among advocates of the proposal have been council deputy leader Coun John Mutton, a long-standing ally of council leader George Duggins – who has long been involved in sporting strategy in Coventry and sporting trusts.

The decision was so controversial, given Coundon residents’ objections, that it a decision was twice deferred at previous hearings.

The committee narrowly voted by four to three in favour of the application.

The Observer has contacted Coun McNicholas and Coventry City Council for a response.

A Council spokesperson said: “The application relating to the Avenue Bowls Club site on Gaveston Road was approved by the Planning Committee. Like all applications requiring committee approval, elected members considered an officer report and listened to representations of interested parties before making the decision.”

We have raised further questions with the council, pointing out that this response does not address Coun McNicholas’s claims.

A Council spokesperson responded further by saying: “Any changes to the membership of committees must go through a due process and would be announced at the next Full Council meeting.”

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