Row over the ‘awkward squad’ at Havant council

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A ROW has broken out after two councillors who questioned big housing developments in Havant borough were removed from the council’s planning committee.

Emsworth Cllr Brendan Gibb-Gray and Hayling Cllr Michael Wilson had served on Havant Borough Council’s development management committee and were well-known as casting a probing eye over planning applications.

But they have now been replaced on the committee, which has seven members in total.

The pair, both Conservatives, recently voted against the controversial Copseys Nursery and Manor Farm development of almost 200 homes in Denvilles which attracted huge opposition from residents.

Council leaders told The News the changes were part of a reshuffle which happens every year.

But Cllr Wilson said: ‘They wanted to get rid of the “awkward squad”.’

Cllr Wilson, a solicitor, said he was told by council leader Tony Briggs that the reason for dropping him was ‘succession planning’.

He added: ‘I think it’s important that there are people there who are prepared to put forward residents’ views to make sure there’s a debate and all the views are aired and considered.’

Cllr Gibb-Gray said he had been supportive of development in the borough – but only in appropriate places.

He said: ‘I’ve taken my responsibilities on the planning committee very seriously over the last nine years.

‘I recognise the need for new homes and new development in order to sustain the economic growth that the area needs but I’m always mindful of my responsibilities as a councillor to the existing residents and residents who may come in the future.’

Cllr Gibb-Gray said he was happy to stand down if it was to give someone else a go.

But he added: ‘It now seems to me it (the shake-up) was not part of the cabinet’s succession planning.

‘It seems more like removing me and Mike Wilson from the committee because we were awkward and we questioned and debated.’

Environmentalist Ray Cobbett, from Emsworth, said: ‘Both Michael and Brendan were the most questioning and probing of the team.

‘I think in this day and age that’s very necessary.

‘We need people like Brendan and Michael to raise questions.’