‘We have not done anything wrong’: Council chief refuses to resign following homes plan debacle

Carole Paternoster
Carole Paternoster

An emergency council meeting is to be held after the Vale’s crucial housing plan was slammed by a government inspector, sparking calls for the politician in charge of the scheme to resign.

Liberal Democrat and Labour leaders at Aylesbury Vale District Council have called for heads to roll and said strategic planning chief, Tory councillor Carole Paternoster, must ‘fall on her sword’.

But Mrs Paternoster this week ruled out quitting her £10,608-per-year cabinet post, claiming ‘no one’ at the council is responsible for the plan’s shortcomings.

The Vale of Aylesbury Plan proposed around 13,850 new homes, most of which have already been approved, and a minimum of 6,000 new jobs, along with all the necessary infrastructure, to be created in the district by 2031.

Inspector Kevin Ward was appointed by the Government to review the strategy and decide whether it should be approved. But in a scathing report published last week he said the level of proposed housing is too low to create the new jobs, while he also criticised the council for not working closely enough with neighbouring authorities.

The plan will now have to be withdrawn, leaving the Vale open to developers looking to take advantage of the lack of a firm housing target, as it will now be harder for major applications to be refused, such as those for Hampden Fields, Fleet Marston and east of Watermead. The Vale’s planning chief, John Byrne, who is paid more than £71,000 annually, has warned a much higher housing target than initially proposed will now have to be set for the district.

Conservative leaders at AVDC have said they followed public opinion when creating the plan and rejected claims they had not worked with neighbouring councils. Mrs Paternoster and AVDC leader Neil Blake said the plan’s failure was largely due to the Government ‘moving the goalposts’ during the process.

But Lib Dem leader, Councillor Steven Lambert, said: “I think Carole Paternoster’s position is untenable and I am shocked that she hasn’t resigned so far.”

Asked about her position, Mrs Paternoster said: “I certainly will not be resigning.

“None of the officers or the politicians have done anything wrong. Nobody has to go.

“What the inspector has said is that we have not achieved the duty to cooperate. That does not mean we have not ticked all the boxes.

“We have not done anything less or more than other councils.”

Should the council come up with a new plan, which could take another two years, it will be the third time it has gone through the process. After a lengthy consultation process, in 2010 the council put forward plans to build 10,000 homes to the east of Aylesbury, following a huge U-turn as it originally favoured building to the south. However, as an inspector delivered his initial verdict on the strategy, the coalition took power and promised to scrap the South East Plan which had forced the council to build 26,000 new homes by 2026.

Lib Dems fear the whole process has cost taxpayers more than £3 million.

An emergency meeting will be held on January 27 to debate a motion put forward by Lib Dems. It calls for Mrs Paternoster to resign and the suspension of chief executive Andrew Grant, who earns more than £119,000 annually from the role, Mr Byrne and the planning manager for forward plans, pending an investigation into the failure.

Mr Lambert said there has been a ‘fundamental management failure led by a flawed political agenda’.