Councillor resigns from Liberal Democrats, accuses party of "throwing aside" manifesto
A disillusioned Liberal Democrat councillor has resigned from the party, accusing it of scoring a “spectacular own goal” by “throwing aside” its manifesto pledges on protecting Cheltenham’s green belt.
Ian Bickerton is now planning to sit on Cheltenham Borough Council as an independent councillor for Leckhampton because of his distaste for the housing blueprint the authority recently endorsed.
The joint core strategy (JCS) sets out where 33,449 homes will be built across Cheltenham, Tewkesbury and Gloucester between 2011 and 2031.
Mr Bickerton believes the Liberal Democrat administration in Cheltenham has “failed to respond to important evidence on the JCS housing numbers” and has “thrown aside” its “manifesto pledges”.
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Mr Bickerton told the Echo he chose to resign because doing so would allow him to “speak freely” on the councils’ housing plan but also to step away from his party “which has substantially changed its environmental policy, moving away from the green ticket” on which Mr Bickerton said he was elected.
Mr Bickerton cited the Lib Dem’s manifesto from March of last year which said the party aims for an “economically successful town” but not one which “sacrifices environmental quality by sprawling beyond its current boundaries and into the green belt”.
The JCS sets out nine new sites where 15,000 of the new homes will be built.
Three of those sites are in Cheltenham and two of them are currently designated as green belt.
Mr Bickerton said the decision by the council to adopt a housing document which will allow for homes to be built on green belt land is a “spectacular own goal for the Lib Dems”.
The Echo asked Mr Bickerton if he feels betrayed by his party’s actions.
“Not me personally,” he said.
“I do know that many Lib Dem voters in Leckhampton feel badly let down by the Liberal Democrat controlled council in their failure to manage the JCS and achieve a positive outcome for Cheltenham.
“However, the vast majority of the public who participated in the first round of the JCS consultation, asking councillors for the lower housing numbers and a strong brownfield policy, are now justifiably feeling totally ignored.”
Mr Bickerton believes the housing numbers that have been used in the JCS are “flawed”.
He did try to put in place a set of conditions in the form of an amendment when Cheltenham discussed the housing plan earlier this month to try and “protect” Cheltenham’s edges while the JCS is hammered out.
He wanted more work to be done on housing numbers, traffic modelling, more input from parish councils and a “brownfield first” policy but his amendment was turned down.
Councillor Steve Jordan (LD, All Saints), leader of the council, said: “It is disappointing that Ian feels he wants to leave. Ian has always struggled to be a team player.
“When it comes to the green belt we have always protected, wherever we can, the green fields around Cheltenham but with the JCS we have to find a difficult balance.”