ALTHOUGH everybody had a good laugh at barmy Bucknell’s blue hair last week at a post-election party, not everything is as nicey-smiley in the local Conservative group as it might seem on the surface. For although it is normally Camden’s Labour group which is famed for its internal tug-of-wars, the Tories have a prickle of their own to deal with.
Its root belongs in the decision to remove Andrew Marshall from the council’s planning committee after six years there. Group leader Claire-Louise Leyland has taken his place and, the word is, he’s not very happy about it at all.
The first whisper was that the reshuffle stemmed from his blunt refusal to follow Tory lines on CLL’s first night as leader last year, when he pushed ahead with the well-worn call for a shared mayoralty.
All are now well-versed in the argument: Labour hogs the position for itself, despite accepting the mayoralty when offered it in opposition. The Lib Dems put up Flick Rea at last year’s mayor-making as an alternative but, to prevent themselves being the grumps at the scene of a celebration, the Conservatives decided on the more muted protest of abstaining from the votes. Andrew, however, walked his own way and caused a lot of upset, internally, by backing the failed push for Flick.
But the latest issue of his sacking from planning runs a little deeper than that historic wound. It seems Andrew’s opinion of his work on the committee does not match with the one held by the rest of the group, who have, in general, come to see him as a councillor who more often than not votes with officer recommendations. He, to their mind, is a rigid stickler for ensuring the council is not exposed to expensive legal appeals on the grounds that of rejecting applications unfairly, on emotion rather than the rules. A sensible head stripped of a the job he worked hard on or a human rubberstamp, there’s two sides to that argument. For his part, Andrew has appeared proud to not fall sucker to what he sees as Nimby protests to development, which have at times included resident-led campaigns in Tory-held wards.
Planning is a non-political committee but the party expects a feistier approach and a stiffer defence of public concerns in the big planning battles which lie ahead. In the background, minds have been sharpened among the Conservatives by Labour’s manifesto promise to deliver 6,000 new homes over the course of this new four year administration. You don’t have to be a sage or soothsayer to see that for that pledge to become a reality, there will need to be a fair wind through the planning control offices. They simply won’t get built if applications get held up. There is no suggestion, of course, that the Tories would try and hold up decent planning applications just to wreck this promise to voters, but there is a renewed impetus on checking big developments are not rushed through without the fullest scrutiny and with that housing target in the back of everyone’s heads.
The same issue was said to have been in the minds of some of those in the Labour Party when they voted to swap Sue Vincent with Heather Johnson as the actual chairwoman of planning, a move which still smarts among the surviving Tulipistas within the group.
Back to the Tories, though, and while Andrew may be frustrated that he suddenly has a few more Thursday nights free, his behaviour is unlikely to change. He’s a learned guy who has always been confident to do his own thing and pretty open when he doesn’t agree. He did not follow group colleague Andrew Mennear’s head-shaking at the plan to raise the EU flag at the Town Hall last week, for example. Instead he applauded it. And he always allowed the ‘too close to the Lib Dems’ barbs bounce off him during Camden’s coalition years too.