Lib Dem Colchester councillor Nick Barlow writes here about he wants to make Colchester Borough Council meetings better for the public. Colchester is currently run by a joint Lib Dem / Labour / Residents administration.
Colchester is already doing better than Rochford – for example, as Nick explains on his blog, at most meetings the public can already turn up and speak.
Perhaps we should ask Nick to come to Rochford and give us a training session….
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…
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:
It’s good to see, and an example that other MPs could follow.
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.
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:
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…
“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…
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:
The 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 :
Our 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:
Anyway, this is the full letter that the various council leaders have sent to the government:
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.”
As usual, Rawreth Parish Council meets on the first Wednesday of this month – which is this week. Nothing dramatic on the agenda, but visitors can expect discussions on local issues, and a hot drink and even maybe a biscuit.
One thing we didn’t mention before is that Chris Stanley was co-opted on the parish council last month, it gives him a real chance to contribute to the community…
The Local Government Commission for England has produced its final recommendations for council elections in our District. There will be all-out elections next May to elect 39 councillors. There will be 13 wards with 3 councillors in each.
In the west of Rayleigh and Rawreth there will be two district wards:
Downhall and Rawreth Ward , comprising the existing Downhall and Rawreth ward plus the Victoria Avenue area which is currently in Sweyne Park ward.
Sweyne Park and Grange Ward, comprising the remaining part of the current Sweyne Park Ward plus all of the existing Grange Ward.
Incidentally the Deepdene Avenue area will be staying in Downhall and Rawreth despite earlier proposals.
There are also changes to the Town Council wards, and this is where it gets really confusing. At the moment residents in the west of Rayleigh are served by two town Councillors for Downhall, three town councillors for Sweyne Park, and three town councillors for Grange.
The “Downhall” area is going to stay the same size, but get three town councillors and be renamed “Sweyne Park”. The “Victoria” area will become a little ward on its own called “Victoria” with just one Councillor. The remaining area will be called “Grange” and have four town councillors.
The really confusing aspect is that the “Downhall” area for the town council is being renamed “Sweyne Park” even though there is no overlap at all with the “Sweyne Park and Grange” district ward! So someone living in , say, Teignmouth Drive will be voting for Sweyne Park councillors for the Town Council but not for the District Council.
At last night’s Town Council meeting, Ron Oatham and Bruce Smart made a last-ditch bid to keep the existing “Downhall” name for the Town Council area. They asked that the Council write to the Commission and Mark Francois, and were supported by independent Councillor Chris Lumley. Most of the Conservatives abstained (they felt it too late to do anything) but one Conservative voted against, so the vote was won 3-1 and a letter will now be sent off.
This may not be the biggest issue in the world but anything that makes local democracy harder to understand should be avoided…
There’s an unusual item on the agenda for next Tuesday’s RDC Annual Council meeting . One of our parish councils, Foulness, doesn’t have enough parish Councillors to function. So it looks likely that the three District Councillors for Great Wakering and Foulness will be stepping in temporarily….