There were around 70 members of the public – I think all were supporters. The EADT was there, taking lots of photos in the hall before we started and we are on the front page of the EADT. (more BBC coverage here). We moved inside fairly quickly as the councillors were going in through the back door to avoid us.
There was a very strange atmosphere in the room, this was commented on by several people – the councillors seemed quite tense and guarded. However, the meeting started and a lot of comments were made about the inaccurate information produced for the councillors. Smith and Ridley tried to excuse this by saying they were trying to be “helpful” and that it didn’t really matter as the Councillors had access to the online consultation system. The issue there of course is that it is virtually impossible to use the online system to find out about the public’s consultation responses because it is designed to enable you to look at individual responses one at a time. As there were hundreds of respondents this would not be practical and I can’t imagine any councillor doing this.
The early questions came mainly from Councillors Kelso, Block, Williams, Morris and Hall, concerning the misinformation and delegation of powers to Smith and Ridley at the Examination in Public. Smith at one point said that the LDF had already been submitted to the inspector, when pressed by Cllr Williams he retracted this and said it had not been submitted. Smith said that the Council could no longer make any substantive changes to the LDF. However, this is at odds with what SCDC Planning Officers previously told representatives from Parish Councils. In the meeting held on Feb 3rd the Planning officers said that SCDC could make changes to the LDF if it wished as a result of the Pre-submission consultation. Cllr Morris pointed out that Councillors were (only on Friday) told to go to the online consultation pages to view representations but the online consultation system stated that not all of the representations were on the system, so by what means could Councillors be certain that they had access to all the consultation representations.
Mr Charvonia, stated that the statement online was incorrect – he said that all the representations were on the system and that this notice should have been removed. Unfortunately it is virtually impossible for this to be checked. (my comment not his)
At this point and with no indication from Cllr Sennington who was supposedly the Chair, Smith suddenly said that it was time he put the motion to the council. Cllr Kelso had put his hand up to speak, the audience became quite vocal and pointed out that Mr Kelso’s hand was raised. Sennington had not been paying attention, she did not carry out her duty as Chair but just dithered about – Smith got very red in the face and petulantly stated that he had started and he should not be interrupted. Cllr Kelso, had to wait to have a microphone brought to him at which point he said that he wanted to put forward an alternative motion. Smith was by this time getting even more agitated. Cllr Kelso appealed to the “Monitoring Officer” Ms Slater but she would not allow Cllr Kelso to speak. She said that he would have the opportunity to raise an amendment after Smith has put the motion but as Cllr Kelso pointed out – he specifically did not want to do that as he wanted to put an alternative motion. He was prevented from so doing. A lot of heckling from the audience ensued but I heard no protest from the other Councillors.
I have endured many of these meetings and have sat through many disheartening hours of witnessing SCDC’s version of democracy in action but this was one of the most blatant disregards of the democratic process. Cllr Kelso left the room saying “To call this democracy in action is an absolute joke”. I could not stay and watch any more. Several of us left, noisily, at this point.
However I do have a report of the remainder of the meeting:-
Cllr Morris tried to put forward an amendment to recommendation (3), but was refused because ‘the debate stage had finished’. (this seems to contradict what Cllr Kelso had been told just some minutes before) There was some confusion over the separate voting on the 3 recommendations – she thought is was going to be debate-vote, debate-vote, debate-vote, but the Chair in effect said it was debate, debate, debate, vote, vote, vote. It was a bit confused.
Cllr Kimberley Williams urged councillors to abstain on the grounds that they didn’t have all the information.
Cllr Chris Blundell made a good speech, applauded by the audience, about the mythical ‘country park’, and in response Smith blamed the previous ‘socialist’ government. His point was that they weren’t allowed to progress the Area Action Plan until the LDF had been adopted, so couldn’t identify any country park as mitigation at this stage. (This seems totally illogical if they can include a site specific housing development site at this stage)
After all that has gone on before and at this meeting it is no surprise that the votes went as follows:
Recommendation (1): for 37, against 3, abstain 3
Recommendation (2): for 38, against 3, abstain 2
Recommendation (3): for 37, against 3, abstain 3
In other words, the LDF is now submitted to the independent inspector. Unless of course it has already been submitted depending on whether Smith was telling the truth in his first statements or in his “amended” statement on this subject.
It was once again a very unedifying spectacle. They showed complete contempt for open debate and democratic principles, all in front of the press and members of the public. This level of arrogance and contempt for others is perhaps a result of certain Councillors, Smith in particular, holding the same office for more than 10 years.
I think John Kelso should be applauded for his efforts and deserves our support in the face of such appalling treatment.
We will be discussing all of the above with the legal advisers. In the meantime, should any one who attended the meeting wish to make a complaint about the conduct of the Council last night, the process is described on this website .