Anger erupts after villagers could not access online meeting where a new 33-home estate in Great Bowden was approved

'I am incandescent with rage' said the vice chairman of Great Bowden Parish Council after a technical breakdown meant the meeting was not available to the public and media

Thursday, 4th June 2020, 11:22 am

Fury has erupted after villagers battled in vain to access a crucial online planning meeting as district councillors backed a new 33-home estate in Great Bowden.

Harborough council’s planning committee gave the go-ahead to the controversial scheme on the Bowden Fencing site off Leicester Lane by a whisker.

But the local parish council and fuming villagers who have fought the blueprint are now demanding the virtual meeting is declared null and void and re-staged.

Cllr Paul Claxton, vice chairman of Great Bowden Parish Council, told the Harborough Mail: I am incandescent with rage."

They are calling for a complete “action replay” after both the public and press were unable to access Tuesday night’s event after a serious technical breakdown blocked them.

Furious Cllr Paul Claxton, 68, vice chairman of Great Bowden Parish Council, told the Harborough Mail: “I am incandescent with rage.

“This meeting was totally unconstitutional and undemocratic.

“Effectively it was held behind closed doors – and it shouldn’t be allowed.”

The site of the planned new estate.

The long-serving parish councillor added: “Harborough council’s planning committee debated an issue which is critical to us – the proposed new 33-home estate.

“But there was no way we could play a full, inter-active part in this because the meeting was held remotely.

“And none of us could watch or listen because of the council’s technical crisis on the night.

“So the meeting should be scrapped and held again.

“Vital supplementary information, for example, wasn’t made available to objectors such as our parish council and angry villagers.

“That is simply unacceptable.”

Cllr Claxton, who has lived on Great Bowden’s High Street since 1984, said the Barwood Homes development squeaked through by five votes to four.

“There wasn’t one abstention which seems very strange.

“We have spent a lot of valuable time drawing up our own Neighbourhood Plan for Great Bowden without any paid officers,” said the incensed retired local government housing officer.

“We put it together in less time than it took Harborough council to do theirs.

“But the district council comes along and rams a coach and horses straight through our Neighbourhood Plan.

“How can that be right?

“We agreed some time ago to back 29 new homes here.

“But Harborough has given the green light to 203 houses to be built here over the last two years alone.

“What’s the point of drawing up our own local, carefully thought-out plan when the district simply ignores it?

“This new application has been described as a ‘windfall’ site.

“But to us a ‘windfall’ location is one or two properties – not 33 new houses!

“This is unfair and unjust.

“I’ve emailed our MP Neil O’Brien and asked him to meet me and our Neighbourhood team as soon as possible to discuss this with us.”

Cllr Claxton said the pretty historic village of Great Bowden, sitting to the north-east of Market Harborough, is quickly being “built to a standstill”.

“We still haven’t got a doctor, no more buses, no schools and we have just one shop and a café.

“We are already so congested that Great Bowden’s been turned into one huge logjam,” he insisted.

“Now 33 new houses will bring in up to 66 more cars here.

“It’s mad.

“We want justice and the least Harborough council can do is to re-stage Tuesday night’s planning meeting and give us a fair crack of the whip.”

Cllr Phil Knowles, who represents Great Bowden on Harborough council, told the Mail: “My phone went into meltdown on Tuesday night because so many people couldn’t access this critical meeting.

“I feel so sorry for them because this was such a crucial decision and they couldn’t hear or say what was going on.

“It’s not just a case of democracy being done – it has to be seen to be done as well.”

Leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat opposition, Cllr Knowles added: “Great Bowden is buckling under the weight of new housing being built in the little village.

“Enough is enough.

“A line has to be drawn in the sand – and no more new homes built.”

Cllr Barry Champion, who led the meeting as chair of Harborough council’s planning committee, said: “I understand the anger and frustration of people who could not get on.

“I only became aware that we had technical problems halfway through the meeting.

“It’s a real shame because this was our third virtual meeting and the first two ran very smoothly.”

The Conservative councillor added: “I’m now waiting for our legal team to get back to me on this to see where we stand.

“And if we have to hold the meeting again then we will.”

Agreeing to meet Cllr Claxton, Harborough MP Neil O’Brien said: “I totally share Great Bowden Parish Council’s frustration on this.

“Neighbourhood planning is broken time and again and it is heartbreaking to see people spend a long time drawing up such plans only to see them picked apart by developers.

“The entire planning system needs an urgent total reboot.”

Harborough District Council has been asked for a comment.