By Tony Earnshaw Local Democracy Reporter
A FULL-BLOWN political row has erupted around the chaotic adoption of Kirklees Council’s controversial Local Plan.
Opposition Tories who believe they were effectively gagged from speaking at last Wednesday evening’s debate suspect they were victims of “orchestrated political censorship”.
They are calling on Kirklees chief executive Jacqui Gedman to explain why key elements of the discussion are missing from the council’s minutes.
There was pandemonium in the council chamber when Labour councillor Gulfam Asif suddenly called for the Local Plan to be put to the vote.
He was seconded by Coun Carole Pattison (Lab, Greenhead).
But both Conservatives and Lib Dems argued that the debate should continue, as many ward members had not been given an opportunity to speak.
There followed chaotic scenes during which Mayor Gwen Lowe (Lab, Batley West), struggled to maintain decorum and council officers faced a challenge over whether the matter had been discussed sufficiently.
Now the council has come under fire for publishing minutes that some councillors claim are not a true record of the meeting.
Among those fighting for clarity is Coun Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield), who has complained to Ms Gedman following the uproarious exchange in Huddersfield Town Hall.
“Coun Asif’s motion is not recorded in the minutes and, due to (Labour’s) poor behaviour, the member who seconded it is not recorded or heard on the webcast. Who was it?” asked Coun Bolt, who called the vote “a debacle”.
“Did the Leader [council leader Shabir Pandor] second the ‘chop’ motion, as it is not clear who did it on the webcast.
“If so, it is clearly an orchestrated political censorship of debate.”
He added: “I vehemently disagree with censorship.
“I also dispute the Mayor’s assertion that there had been sufficient debate as so few members had spoken and many wards had not had one speaker.
“The minutes are incorrect and published. It is unclear to the public who voted, and indeed who didn’t vote at all.”
A webcast of the meeting shows multiple attempts to take the recorded vote, which Coun Bolt described as “a farce”.
He said the “top table”, which included Ms Gedman and Julie Muscroft, service director (legal, governance and commissioning) had refused to accept members voting by responding to their names, which he said was a “legitimate right”.
He was backed by party colleague Coun Richard Smith (Con, Kirkburton), who has also written to Ms Gedman to express “deep concern”.
He described the vote to close the meeting early “an absolute affront to the democratic process”.
Given the Labour group’s majority, there was little doubt that the Local Plan would be adopted.
But fewer than a third of councillors were allowed to debate the issue before the “extraordinary” meeting of full council was cut short.
The move was described as “an appalling abuse of power” by Conservatives, with Labour accused of “bullyboy tactics” by Lib Dems.
The Local Plan was passed by a 33-23 vote, with three abstentions.
A Kirklees Council spokesman said: “Some concerns have been raised in relation to the Full Council meeting on February 27 and these are being dealt with in line with the correct council procedures.”