St Helens councillor slams trolls for online Local Plan abuse

Coun Bowden
Coun Bowden
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The deputy leader of St Helens Council has hit out at online trolls for hurling abuse at councillors over the Local Plan.

Coun Andy Bowden, cabinet member for balanced development, housing and economic opportunity, spoke out as the council voted through the St Helens Local Plan this week.

Coun Gomez-Aspron

Coun Gomez-Aspron

The deputy Labour leader said councillors were “vilified” during the public consultation carried out on the ‘preferred options’ Local Plan in late 2016.

Coun Bowden said: “Despite accusations to the contrary we did exactly what we said we would do. We listened to what respondents said.

“We have taken account of those that made valid points and set out their legitimate concerns.

“And though at times I would disagree with their views, I thank them for their contributions.

“However, what this process did not take account of was the abuse, lies, half-truths, disinformation, occasional misogyny and vilification directed at councillors and the council.

“It may well be a product of a wider issue around the use of social media and the belief you can say anything you like about anyone, but it added nothing to the process and says far more about those who took that approach than their intended targets.”

In September of this year the council delayed the Local Plan following the release of new government data on household projections.

In the preferred options plan, the council allocated land to accommodate 570 housing units per annum.

The revised plan proposes delivery of 486 per annum.

Coun Seve Gomez-Aspron, ward member for Newton-le-Willows, said the figures have been revised because of a new methodology, and not down to pressure from campaigners.

The Labour councillor – who has faced multiple disciplinary hearings in the past over his online conduct – accused protest groups of “throwing tantrums”.

He also took aim at “one-trick ponies elected on fairytale promises”, which was likely aimed at independent Rainhill councillor James Tasker, who campaigned heavily on opposition to green belt development.

Coun Gomez-Aspron said: “The figures have changed because of the government methodology.

“And as Coun Bowden said, not through protest groups throwing tantrums and bravely hurling anonymous abuse on social media then complaining when they get it back.

“Or one-trick ponies elected on fairy-tale promises that they don’t want no development at all.”

The Local Plan was approved by the council following a named vote.

An eight-week publication period will begin on January 14 to allow the public to view the plan and submit representations to the council.

The plan will then be submitted to an independent planning inspector in the summer, with the council aiming to adopt the Local Plan in 2020.