Conservative Cheshire West and Chester Council faces a crisis after four Tory rebels were suspended by council leader Mike Jones leaving the administration dependent on the casting vote of Tory Lord Mayor Jill Houlbrook.
Nicknamed the ‘gang of four’, Tory councillors Brian Crowe, Myles Hogg, Gareth Anderson and Neil Sullivan had the whip withdrawn after winning a motion at last Thursday’s special council to send the controversial student village application to full council for a decision.
The motion was driven by concerns over changes to the make-up of the strategic planning committee that had been due to determine the plan, which includes the Sir Steve Redgrave sports institute and is earmarked for green belt land between Blacon and Mollington.
Speculation surrounded Cllr Jones’ decision to sack the committee’s former chairman Myles Hogg who voted down the student village and replace him with Cllr Howard Greenwood, a property developer with past links to Bell Developments who are behind the scheme.
Cllr Jones has previously declared a prejudicial interest because of his friendship with the Bell family and can’t get involved with the application.
Cllr Crowe (Saughall and Mollington), who is now listed on the council website as an ‘unaligned Conservative’, described the fall out as ‘handbags really’ and hopes to rejoin the group in future.
He told The Chronicle he discovered the whip had been withdrawn through the council website before he had received official confirmation from the council leader.
Cllr Crowe added: “We are not trying to split the group. People are in denial over what’s gone on and the press coverage and the BBC coverage. There’s none so blind as those that cannot see.”
Aside from the student village, Cllr Crowe is also concerned about the draft local plan proposal to build 22,000 homes in West Cheshire which he dubs as ‘an aspiration for growth’ and not evidence-based.
The Chronicle approached Cllr Jones, through the council press office, to comment on the latest development.
In response, Cllr Jones said: “I can confirm that four members of the group have had the whip withdrawn.”
The full council will determine the student village application on Thursday, October 3, from 5.30pm in Chester Town Hall following planning training for those councillors who need it.
The council is now made up of 32 Labour members, one Lib Dem, four unaligned Conservatives and 38 Conservatives leaving the casting vote in the hands of Lord Mayor Jill Houlbrook.