Rebels ramp up the pressure after debate

A BOROUGH councillor has said he anticipates ‘blood on the table’ as disagreements over the selling of River Lawn become increasingly bitter.

Tempers were frayed during a full Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council meeting last Tuesday [July 11] that saw 50 protestors present their 1,600 signature petition opposing the sale of the town centre green space. The council voted for the petition to be considered by the Cabinet of six councillors in October.

Members rejected a motion to extend the discussion, which was put forward by two Judd ward councillors, Peter Bolt and David Cure.

“I find it irritating that councillors didn’t think it was important enough to debate. Frankly it makes me laugh, if this was happening in any of the areas they represent they would be up in arms,” said Cllr Cure.

“I’m feeling very bullish. We’re not going to let this go. There will be blood on the table. We might lose but we will go down fighting,” he pledged.

Campaigner Lucy Athey, who presented the arguments against the sale said: “We had hoped that a fuller debate could lead to the councillors giving a recommendation to the Cabinet but now the future of River Lawn lies in the hands of just six members.

“We were praised by the councillors for showing that democracy is alive and well in Tonbridge, but we don’t feel it is democratic that just six councillors can propose a sale of the land, and the same six get to decide the final outcome.”

Council Leader Nicolas Heslop pointed out that since the introduction of the Local Government Act 2000, the Borough Council have had an executive system and that, even if he wanted to extend the vote to the full council, he is constitutionally constrained from doing so.

“I have asked the Council’s monitoring officer – the most senior legal adviser – whether there is provision within the constitution for Cabinet to refer its decision on the disposal of River Lawn to all members. There is no such provision, so to make a referral would be unlawful.

“In that context, as with all Cabinet meetings, I take a very open approach to discussion, so that all members can speak – and while non-Cabinet members do not have a vote, their views are heard and considered.”

Defending his vote to keep the discussion to 15 minutes, he highlighted a previous petition on car parking charges in West Malling that attracted more signatories than River Lawn’s.

“I don’t recall any members, including Peter Bolt and David Cure, arguing that the 15 minute rule should be suspended.

“That petition was referred to Cabinet and it was the Cabinet who made the final decision. If a larger petition wasn’t considered worthy of an alternative decision making process, then there are no grounds to do as suggested for the River Lawn petition.”