The views of backbench councillors have been completely ignored by the council's Cabinet which refused to look at any other suggestions for more efficient provision of affordable housing in Lewes district at its meeting yesterday [11 June].
The ruling anti-Conservative coalition Cabinet at Lewes District Council voted down every idea proposed by a cross-party scrutiny committee which it itself created just a few months ago, saying it wished to give a louder voice to ordinary councillors in key decision making.
“Riding roughshod over every recommendation of the new Policy and Performance Advisory Committee (PPAC) says volumes about the pretense of democracy that the council Cabinet has”, says Cllr Joe Miller (Conservative, Peacehaven West) who chairs the newly created panel. “The committee’s proposals would have created an increased number of affordable new homes, and right across the Lewes district – not just a dozen in the centre of Lewes,” he adds.
The row erupted over the derelict Saxonbury site in Juggs Lane, Southover. The original idea was for a mix of shared-ownership and open-market flats which would have raised much-needed revenue to allow even more affordable housing across the district, in places such as Peacehaven, Ringmer, Newhaven and Seaford, since demand is not confined to Lewes town centre. The alliance coalition sought to change the plans and use the Saxonbury site solely for affordable rent units in Lewes, even if this meant a reduced income.
The all-party PPAC discussed the proposal in detail and decided that the original scheme could be preferable on several grounds and would benefit the entire district. Cllr Isabelle Linington urged the Cabinet to accept the recommendation to consider the options and look at the figures again before making a final decision. However, the Cabinet roundly rejected this, without consideration, and said it felt “no need to accept any of the recommendations”.
“Following a governance review which it instigated, the ruling coalition administration created the PPAC, formed of members from every party, saying it would give backbench councillors more of a say in decision making”, explained Cllr Miller. “Clearly that is not the case at all and this administration’s Cabinet is not interested in hearing any ideas except their own, no matter that they benefit the wider Lewes district.”
While the Conservative opposition make clear that they support the provision of affordable houses in Lewes, they maintain that the proposals as now agreed do not make the best use of the Saxonbury site while reducing the overall provision of low-cost homes for those most in need across the district.
Note: The Policy and Performance Advisory Committee was formally the Scrutiny Committee. It’s role is to scrutinise the council’s ruling cabinet. It is chaired by Cllr Joe Miller.