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Have A Look At James’ Survey!

James Newport is carrying out an online survey  –  about what issues concern you in  Rochford District and how you view your councillors.

You can fill complete the survey here – it doesn’t take long and you don’t have to live in any particular area. The results should be interesting…

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Repost: So Much For Local Democracy…..

The Guardian reports :

Legislation to turn every school in England into an academy independent of local authority control will be unveiled in the budget.

Draft leglislation, to be published possibly as early as Thursday, will begin the process of implementing a pledge made by David Cameron in his conference speech last autumn.

The prime minister said his “vision for our schooling system” was to place education into the hands of headteachers and teachers rather than “bureaucrats”…

….Councils reacted angrily to the news. Councillor Roy Perry, chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Ofsted has rated 82% of council-maintained schools as good or outstanding, so it defies reason that councils are being portrayed as barriers to improvement. Ofsted has not only identified that improvement in secondary schools – most of which are academies – has stalled, but it has praised strong improvement in primary schools, most of which are maintained.”

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Hullbridge Plan Is Passed 9-2, Roundabout Passed As Well

It was an uninspiring night in the council chamber.

The Hullbridge/Rawreth application for 500 was passed by 9 votes to 2. Chris Black (Lib Dem) moved refusal and was seconded by John Hayter (UKIP) but they were outvoted by 9 Conservatives. The Hullbridge District Councillors Michael and Diane Hoy (Green) and Angela Hale (Tory), plus Hullbridge Parish Councillors Angelina Marriott (Labour) all made good speeches, as did our Tory MP Mark Francois , but none of them had a vote.

The roundabout application was also passed, despite a speech against by Rawreth Parish Councillor Chris Stanley and some concerns about the details expressed by Chris Black (Lib Dem). the only concession Chris got was that the ward councillors would be consulted on the screening and landscaping, to minimise the impact on neighbouring residents. This was supported by the Tory leader Terry Cutmore.

The Echo has a good report here.

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Chelmsford Council plans to fine homeless people up to £100- and won’t even let non-Conservatives vote on it.

Chelmsford Lib Dems have been blocked from discussing plans to fine homeless people up to £100. The proposal for a “Public Spaces Protection Order” (PSPO) in High Street, Chelmsford has generated much controversy, including thousands of signatures on different petitions. You can sign a petition here.

Lib Dem Group Leader Stephen Robinson has attempted to table a motion for the full Chelmsford council meeting tonight,  24th February. The motion raised concerns about the PSPO proposal and called for a full investigation by the Overview & Scrutiny Committee.

However the Council Chief Executive ruled the motion out of order on the grounds that there will be a debate at the Cabinet meeting on 1st March.Cllr Robinson commented, “ALL councillors should have the chance to address this important and controversial topic, which affects some of the most vulnerable in society.”At the Cabinet meeting, only nine Conservative Cabinet members have full rights to speak and vote.

“If Council referred the topic to the Scrutiny committee, the arguments for and against the proposal could be discussed fully and in a properly informed way, calling witnesses to comment.

“Clearly, the Conservatives do not want full, public scrutiny of these proposals or indeed their failure to address the root causes of homelessness, which has reached record levels in Chelmsford.”

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Democracy And Debate – With Coffee And Biscuits

That’s right, Rawreth Parish Council meets again tomorrow night (Wednesday) Including a public question time and a hot drink and a biscuit for all visitors. AA little bird tells us you can expect Parish Councillor Chris Stanley to be talking about traffic…

Starts 7:30 in the village hall!

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How To Communicate

We are Lib Dems, but as you will have noticed , we don’t publish lots of party material, this isn’t that kind of website.

But credit where it’s due. Our party leader, Tim Farron, has a lot to do nationally. But it’s impressive how he communicates with his local constituents via Facebook. We saw this yesterday on his facebook page:

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It’s good to see, and an example that other MPs could follow.

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Look to The West

Rawreth Parish Council kicks off 2016  with a meeting next Wednesday Jan 6th at 7:30 pm in the village hall.

Nothing extraordinary on the agenda, but a chance for some participatory local democracy with a warm beverage.

Or in simple terms – the public can ask questions and express views, and get a cup of coffee or tea and maybe a biscuit!

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“Slouching Towards Post-Democracy”

Colchester Lib Dem Nick Barlow writes perceptively here about the erosion of democracy. The public face of democracy is till there (elections) – but real control is being taken away from those democratically elected:

…This, of course, is the usual modus operandi for the Tories. Big, bold claims about opening up services, providing choice, freedom and everything else, while actually instituting systems that take power further away from the people than it was before. There’s a huge illusionary trick being pulled off as Cameron and Osborne dazzle the crowd with language that sounds as though they’re giving away power when in reality they’re doing anything but. Under the guise of devolution, power is actually being pulled away from the people, insulated from any direct accountability and the possibility of any real local control.

Consider Osborne’s much-vaunted city regions. How will they be run? Through a board where almost all of the members are indirectly elected and the one that is (the regional mayor) won’t have any structures around them to provide checks and balances or to scrutinise them. Just as we’ve seen with PCCs, you’ll get to vote for someone once every four years and hope that they’re doing what you voted for during that time. Meanwhile, we’ve already been told that any decision to approve an increase in business rates will need to be approved by the unelected Local Enterprise Partnership. LEPs have already been given massive amounts of money to spend outside of any democratic control, and how long before the usual steady creep gives them even more unaccountable power over local decisions?

postdemocracyTo me, it feels like the institutions of post-democracy are being assembled around us, and the key part of post-democracy is that while democratic forms still exist for the public face of the system, they have little say over the operation of power within it. The rhetoric of democracy is being used to introduce systems that hollow out the practice of it, telling people that they are free while gradually removing any of the tools they may have used to exercise that freedom and make power accountable. That’s the prospect being laid out in front of us – no sudden change from one system to another, just a gradual whittling away of power – and if we’re going to confront it, then we need to get comfortable talking abour power.

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Tory Leadership Intend To Stop 26 Councillors Voting On Planning Applications

The Tory leadership, after being rattled for so long by some battling councillors and discontented residents, is fighting back. The leader of the council, Terry Cutmore, is bringing this little gem to Full Council next week:

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So, basically, after this only 13 councillors will be able to vote on planning applications at any meeting. Although the motion says the idea is to ‘mimimise the potential for political influence’ it will actually increase that potential for political influence, because Tory councillors on the committee will be wary of falling out of favour and being removed from the committee.

It’s a further step in the council leadership isolating itself from the public and from all the other councillors. First it was the creation of a council cabinet, then it was the abolition of the area committees where the public could speak, then it was the removal of the right of referring decisions to full council. And now this…

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Geoff Williams To Move Motion Of No Confidence At Basildon Council

We wrote recently about Basildon Council, where a planning decision for a big housing site was kept away from Basildon’s own planning committee and decided under delegated powers.

Veteran Liberal Democrat Councillor Geoff Williams is now intending to table a motion of no confidence in the planning committee chair Cllr Morris on October 15th. The motion reads:

“This council believes in democratic and transparent decision-making processes and is alarmed at the decision of the chair of planning, Carole Morris, to deal with [Dry Street] by way of delegated powers rather than, as requested by other members, by committee.

“In these circumstances council resolves that it has no confidence in Cllr Morris as chair of the planning committee and removes her as chair of that committee.

“It is further resolved that in future, all planning application reserved matters relating to housing developments greater than 10 properties come before the planning committee for determination and that the council’s constitution be amended as appropriate to reflect this requirement.”

When someone with the stature and reputation of Geoff Williams proposes a motion of no confidence in you, you know you’re in trouble…

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This Is Important – A “Combined Authority” To Rule Over Essex?

The government is offering to devolve powers and decision-making to regional areas, and as a result the different council leaders in Essex – including Essex CC , Southend and Thurrock – have been talking about working together.

The first thing to say is that there has been no discussion at our Full Council about this yet.

The second is that nothing has been officially agreed yet and the plans don’t involve merging councils. Our chief executive Amar Dave has written to us to say:

devo7The third is that the plans involve creating a “Combined Authority” that would consist of the leaders of the 15 authorities, as a sort of super-politburo that could make decisions. According to a joint letter from all the council leaders :

devo0Our county needs more infrastructure, and maybe this is a way of getting the government to fund more infrastructure (even in a time of Conservative austerity)  But forgive us for being suspicious, this “Combined Authority” could very possibly be used to force through unpopular decisions on individual parts of Essex. We also note that some existing  bodies – County Highways, the Essex Fire and Rescue Service and the South Essex Planning Partnership – aren’t beacons of success.

The fourth point is that the letter points to  increased housebuilding, and new infrastructure through private sector investment. That could mean toll roads, or roads funded by new housing:

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Anyway, this is the full letter that the various council leaders have sent to the government:

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Basildon Council Bypasses Its Own Planning Committee

Sometimes planning meetings aren’t simply about passing something or refusing it. They are about suggesting improvements in the layout. A good example of this was back in the 80s with the Downhall Park Way Development . The Lib Dem ward councillors at that time got the layout altered in a number of places , to minimise the impact on neighbours. So , for example, they got the plan altered so that one family didn’t get seven lots of gardens adjoining their own garden. This was done at the full planning committee.

No such niceties nowadays in Basildon, according to the Yellow Advertiser:

BASILDON Council has approved detailed plans for the first phase of the Dry Street development, without holding a public meeting.

The decision was taken behind closed doors under delegated powers, at the suggestion of Tory planning committee chair Carole Morris.

Tory councillors overruled opposition members in 2013 to grant outline planning permission for 725 homes on green space off of Nethermayne and Dry Street.

The permission meant that more detailed plans would have to be signed off at a later date.

In an email sent to committee members on August 28, Mrs Morris said she did not wish the new, detailed plans to be discussed publicly as she felt residents ’do not understand’ the process.

She wrote: “The council rules allow for reserved matters applications to be decided by delegation. In this case I feel that it is the wisest course, as members of the public do not understand the differences between what can and what cannot be taken into consideration and would expect to discuss whether to build or not.”

Cllr Morris also implied that she feared the committee – on which Tory members are now outnumbered – might fail to grant permission.

Since outline permission was granted, Basildon Council has voted by majority to pass a motion expressing regret at the decision.

She continued: “As we all know, the only matters that are considered are things like appearance, layout, landscaping and scale, which have not previously been considered.

“Because of this, I would not be able to allow [residents] to speak, as any attempt to revisit the matters which have already been decided could mean that the applicant go make a legal challenge, something to be avoided as it could cost the council a lot of money….

…..Labour’s Alan Bennett called it an ’abuse of power’.

He said: “The option to bring a huge development like this before the committee – and this is the biggest development in Basildon – means that if a developer has missed something out or bodged something up, local councillors can have some input, make suggestions for conditions and make sure they get the right development for residents. But none of that can now happen in this case.”

Full article here.