Wokingham’s Conservatives accused of ducking debate on Elms Field

CONSERVATIVES in charge of the council have been accused of running scared and ducking out of a debate on Elms Field ahead of the May local elections.

At a full council meeting held on Thursday, March 22, Liberal Democrat councillor Prue Bray
had placed a motion on the agenda urging all parties to come together and apologise to Wokingham’s residents over recent tree felling ahead of turning a mostly unused part of the field into shops, restaurants and a hotel.

But the council meeting ran out of time after speeches and questions and an extension to the meeting was refused – it ended at 10.30pm.

During the meeting, a furious Cllr Andy Croy (Labour) tweeted that the Conservatives were filibustering to avoid the debate, using the hashtag #enoughisenough.

Speaking to The Wokingham Paper, Cllr Croy added: “It is pathetic. The Tories keep doing this. They spend a lot of time talking to themselves.

“It’s behaviour like that puts people off politicians.”

He also felt that the reason the debate didn’t take place was that the Conservatives didn’t want to talk about Elms Field.

“From our canvassing we know it’s a deeply, deeply unpopular issue. They hope it will go away.”

And Cllr Prue Bray expressed her anger that her motion wasn’t debated.

It read: “This Council apologises to the residents of Wokingham for felling a large number of mature trees and destroying the green space at Elms Field over the weekend of 17th and 18th February 2018.  This Council further apologises to the residents of Wokingham for deciding to appropriate this land for development from being public open space, thus ignoring both the wishes of the benefactors who originally made this land available for the enjoyment of local people, and the wishes of thousands of current residents.

“This Council will set up a working group to discuss all its current regeneration plans, including its plans for Elms Field.  The working group would be cross party and include a small number of residents, and Wokingham town councillors.

“The working group will discuss and assess all the Council’s plans for the regeneration of Wokingham town and make recommendations back to the council before the end of 2018.”

However, none of it was discussed as the council meeting – at which The Wokingham Paper was the only media present – ended at 10.30pm. It had already been extended.

Cllr Bray told The Wokingham Paper: “I’m not happy and I’m not surprised. I thought that the motion was unamendable. They just didn’t want to deal with it.

“Instead, the self-congratulation went on and on and on. We’ll be telling everyone that they didn’t want to debate Elms Field.

“They’ve lost this issue. It’s too late to change the public mood mow. They’re trying to pretend it’s all wonderful with the town centre regeneration but no one believes it.”

And Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Lindsay Ferris blasted: “Of course they’re ducking the issues. They were just scared of having a debate and did everything they could to avoid it.

“They were filibustering to the extreme. What did they say apart from they were wonderful?”

“Not one of them said sorry [to residents] for the road traffic problems, not one of them. That was a big mistake.

But Cllr Pauline Jorgensen said: “A number of Liberal Democrat activists asked Public Questions, and the Mayor rightly expanded the time so that all the residents who turned up had their questions answered.

“The number of party political questions from Opposition activists always seems to increase at election time, and take up a lot of time that could be used to answer other residents’ questions.

“We properly debated the reports on the agenda, including an important document that starts the process of setting the Council’s direction and priorities for the next five years.”

“What Opposition councillors conveniently gloss over is that there was a Conservative motion on the agenda which didn’t get debated either.”

“Unlike the Liberal Democrat’s party-political motion attacking the Council, our motion was a non-political debate about abuse towards those in public life.”

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Phil Creighton

Editor of The Wokingham Paper, and has worked in local journalism for more than 20 years including the Wokingham Times, Bracknell Standard and Reading Evening Post. He's also written for computer magazines, The Baptist Times and, to his delight and probably not yours, interviewed several Doctor Whos.

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