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Archive for Local Democracy

“Just go forward in all your beliefs …”

Colchester Lib Dem Councillor and blogger Nick Barlow is stepping down after 8 years. He explains why in a thoughtful piece here. It is worthwhile reading for anyone trying to become a councillor. Key extracts:

…But what about localism, I hear you ask? Don’t you have all sorts of new powers to do things your way? Pause to hear a legion of councillors laughing sadly at that. Localism sounds good, especially when put through the party political spin machine, but in practice it just means we get to locally decide how much we agree with Eric Pickles on something – total or absolute. For instance, the old centrally imposed housing targets have been removed, which sounds good, but the evidence base on which councils have to decide their housing targets haven’t, so it’s a case of no longer being told from the centre that the answer is 10, but instead being give two fives and told to go away and add them up locally, and you’ll be entirely responsible for the result. After a while being caught between voters’ expectations of what the Council can do, what it can actually do, and Whitehall’s continued belief that we should just be local delivery arms for the Government can get pretty tiring.

I’m reminded of what Tony Benn said when he left the House of Commons, that now he’d have more time for politics. One of the problems of being involved in the day-to-day politics of being a councillor is that you get swamped by the process and forget the wider issues. There’s a tendency to let everything become a process story, and I think that goes some way to explaining why a lot of politicians are suckered by the cult of managerialism – you can feel that the important thing is the sheer action making of decisions, rather than what decisions actually are….

….I’ve still got a month left on the Council, so it’s probably a bit early for epitaphs, but it’s been fun and I’d still recommend it to people who want to have some impact on their community, even if the Council’s not quite the grand seat of power it used to be. To those who remain, and those who come after me, I can only echo the words of someone much older and wiser than me:

One day, I may come back. Yes, I may come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.

A Question Of Floor Space, A Question Of Localism

question mark

There’s a planning application in Hockley to construct a two bedroom bungalow. The application number is 14/00807/FUL and the intention is to build in the rear garden of 28 Great Eastern Avenue but fronting directly onto Gladstone Road.

What’s interesting is that last month the council adopted policies about minimum floorspace in new homes. The floorspace in this application is below that standard, but officers are still recommending approval . The reason? The national government is going to enforce a national policy sometime in the future, which allow smaller homes. So much for localism! It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a general election soon- a new government might do something different.

The application will be passed unless at least one councillor calls it in to the Development Committee by Wednesday.

You can download the officers report here (it’s the third item).
This is the key extract from the officer’s report:

Policy DM4 of the Development Management Document 2014 refers to the
need for new dwellings to adhere to minimum habitable floor space standards
and a house with two bedrooms to provide 77m². Habitable floorspace
includes bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens but not hallways and
bathrooms. The proposed dwelling would be somewhat less than the recently
adopted figure with a habitable floorspace of 62m².
.
The preamble to policy DM4 also requires a floor to ceiling clearance of 2.5m
and the proposed section drawings indicate only 2.4m is achieved.
.
The Government has however proposed a national space standard as part of the Housing
Standards Review (2013) which differs from the standard that Policy DM4
seeks to achieve in several respects. The two standards are calculated
slightly differently with the national standard proposed to be calculated on
Gross Internal Area including voids, stairs and all rooms whereas the local
policy standard incorporates only certain ‘habitable rooms’. In some cases the
proposed national space standard would be less generous than the local
policy requirement.
.
Government advice is however clear that, once in force,Local Authorities
will not be allowed to require a more generous space standard than
the national space standard. The proposed national space standard for a
single storey two bed dwelling would be 70m² and as the
proposed dwelling would have a gross internal area of 77m² it would be
compliant with this. It is therefore considered reasonable to relax the
requirements of Policy DM4 in this instance.

This Month’s Rawreth Parish Council Meeting….

240px-Rawreth_sign

… is on Wednesday 7th More »

Cake Night In Rawreth

chocolate cake

Tonight’s Rawreth Parish Council meeting dealt with some serious issues but was a good-natured affair. This was helped by the excellent home-made cheese scones and chocolate cake provided for the public as a seasonal treat (other councils please copy!).

Here’s a few key points:

  • The parish council are giving grants to a number of good causes, including 500 pounds to the new Rawreth Flood Action Group. The Action Group will be setting up their own website.
  • Another grant was 800 pounds for the parish newsletter.
  • It was pointed out that our last onlinefocus item on flooding in Rawreth wasn’t accurate – Church Road and Old London Road DID flood that evening.
  • There was some discussion about the uprated pumps for the Fairglen Interchange causing flooding problems for some residents. The water is pumped into balancing ponds which couldn’t cope with the 1000 tonnes of water from the last lot of rain.
  • There was concern about the unauthorised excavations on the highway next to the traveller site on the A1245 . The district and the county councils have seen this but apparently taken no action.
  • 5 residents said they didn’t get Rochford District Matters and Chris Black got their postcodes to pass on to RDC.
  • It was queried as to why Watery Lane / Beeches Road had to be closed for litter picking and how much it cost.
  • On the financial side, the parish council are not increasing their level of council tax.
  • Finally, it was queried as to why Rawreth had been overlooked for a proposed Crouch arts festival – after all, it is on the Crouch!
  • Rawreth Meets…

    240px-Rawreth_sign

     

    Just a reminder that Rawreth Parish Council meets on Wednesday at 7:30 in the village hall. As usual there will be a public question time, and the public and press are welcome.

    One of the biggest items will be the planning application for “North of London Road” which is entirely in Rawreth.

    “Lights, Camera , Action”

    Thanks to the Mighty Oz for pointing this item from the government website

    Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles today published a new guide for local people explaining how they can attend and report their local council meetings. New guidance explicitly states that councils should allow the public to film council meetings.

    The new how-to guide gives practical information for the public to attend meetings of a council’s executive and how to obtain council documents. The government has changed the law to allow citizens to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings in England. It also outlines the assorted rights that taxpayers’ have to access council papers and documents….

    You can find quite a few council chamber videos on Youtube. Here’s one from a small City council in the USA, which gets a bit tetchy, nothing spectcular, though there is some hat throwing after about 2 minutes 15 secs:

    The Official Answers

    The minutes to the last Full District Council meeting are now available here.

    Here you can find the written answers to the public questions – due to technical problems we can’t cut and paste them on to onlineFOCUS right now, we should be able to do it tomorrow morning…:

    (a) From Mr J E Cripps of 5 Durham Way, Rayleigh, of the Deputy
    Leader of the Council:-

    “On the 21st September 2013 Cllr Hudson issued an open letter making
    various personal pledges in respect of the Local Development
    Framework- Rayleigh & Rawreth. My question relates to the following
    “quoted” statement:-
    “To facilitate this it will be necessary to relocate the Rayleigh Sports and
    Social Club (a valued facility for our residents), they will receive new and
    enhanced facilities in recognition of their contribution to Rayleigh life at no
    cost to themselves – this is my pledge.”
    Recently the Leader of the Council (Cllr Cutmore) has announced, via the
    letters page of the Evening Echo, that there will not be any new and
    enhanced facilities for RTSSC.
    My question is, therefore, at what Council meeting was this
    discussed/agreed and recorded.”

    The Leader of the Council, Cllr T G Cutmore, responded on behalf of the
    Deputy Leader as follows:-
    “The provision of new and enhanced facilities for the Rayleigh Sports and
    Social Club was predicated on the possibility of the Council’s land
    currently occupied by the Social Club being required for future housing
    development. It has now been concluded that there is no requirement for
    the Council’s land to be used to facilitate the building of housing. That
    being the case Rayleigh Sports and Social Club, a private members only
    club, can remain precisely where it is for the foreseeable future. Without
    the need for the land to be used for housing it will be down to the Club, as
    a private business, to determine its requirements for enhanced facilities in
    the future.”

    By way of supplementary question Mr Cripps referred again to the pledge
    made by the Deputy Leader in recognition of the Sports and Social Club’s
    contribution to Rayleigh Life and why this no longer stood.
    The Leader re-affirmed that the pledge had been predicated on the
    possibility of the Council’s land currently occupied by the Social Club
    being required for future housing development, which was no longer the
    case.

    (b) From Mr R Lambourne of 7 Whitehouse Court, 158 Eastwood Road,
    Rayleigh, of the Leader of the Council:-

    “I note from the latest edition of Rochford District Matters that the Council
    has employed a barrister to defend an action by a local resident
    concerning the Core Strategy and Allocation Plan.
    Can you confirm who authorised the defence of this action and in
    particular the considerable extra expense that is presumably budgeted for
    and will be paid for out of the council tax and why that authorisation hasn’t
    been sanctioned by the Full Council?”

    The Leader of the Council, Cllr T G Cutmore, responded as follows:-
    “The defence of the legal challenge brought against the Council’s Adopted
    Allocation Plan was undertaken by the Head of Legal, Estates and
    Member Services in accordance with the authorisation conferred by
    Article 13 of the Council’s Constitution.”

    By way of supplementary question Mr Lambourne asked if, when
    considering possibilities, account had been taken of the costs of not
    defending the action and the making of adjustments to the Strategy.
    The Leader indicated that every contingency would have been considered
    and that the Council had the right to defend its own policies

    “A Classic Political Mistake”

    rayleigh view1
    Independent Tory Toby Mountain writes on his blog about the erosion of local democracy last week:

    “With concerns about the decision making process becoming more vocal amongst residents (and from a few voices within) and opposition groups gradually making in-roads and winning seats, sensible leadership would start reaching out in order to refresh, regroup and address the concerns being raised by listening and finding ways to compromise and accept more accountability. That approach gains respect. However….”

    The Ones Who Signed – And The Ones Who Didn’t

    These are the 20 Conservative Councillors who signed the motion to abolish ordinary councillors’ rights to call in a decision to full council:

    Cllrs T G Cutmore; Mrs C E Roe;
    K H Hudson; D Merrick; I H Ward; M R Carter; M J Steptoe; Mrs L A Butcher;
    Mrs M H Spencer; Mrs G A Lucas-Gill; Mrs J E McPherson; M Maddocks;
    C G Seagers; K J Gordon; S P Smith; Mrs A V Hale; Mrs C A Weston;
    R R Dray; Mrs J A Mockford and B T Hazlewood:-

     

    and these 7 are the ones who haven’t signed:

    Phil Capon
    Tracy Capon
    Heather Glynn
    John Griffin
    Jack Lawmon
    Dave Sperring
    Barbara Wilkins

    Tuesday Night’s Questions And Call-Ins

    There ‘s a lot happening at the council on Tuesday night. You can download the agenda from here, but here’s the public questions and the call-ins:

    First of all , two questions from members of the public:

     

    1 QUESTIONS BY THE PUBLIC

    1.1 the following question has been received from Mr J E Cripps of 5 Durham Way,
    Rayleigh, Essex of the Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr K H Hudson:-
    ‘On the 21st September 2013 Cllr Hudson issued an open letter making
    various personal pledges in respect of the Local Development Framework-
    Rayleigh & Rawreth. My question relates to the following “quoted”
    statement:-
    “To facilitate this it will be necessary to relocate the Rayleigh Sports and
    Social Club (a valued facility for our residents), they will receive new and
    enhanced facilities in recognition of their contribution to Rayleigh life at no
    cost to themselves – this is my pledge.”
    Recently the Leader of the Council (Cllr Cutmore) has announced, via the
    letters page of the Evening Echo, that there will not be any new and enhanced
    facilities for RTSSC.
    My question is, therefore, at what Council meeting was this discussed/agreed
    and recorded.’

    1.1 the following question has been received from Mr R Lambourne of 7 Whitehouse
    Court, 158 Eastwood Road, Rayleigh, Essex of the Leader of the Council,
    Cllr T G Cutmore:-
    ‘I note from the latest edition of Rochford District Matters that the Council has
    employed a barrister to defend an action by a local resident concerning the
    Core Strategy and Allocation Plan.
    Can you confirm who authorised the defence of this action and in particular
    the considerable extra expense that is presumably budgeted for and will be
    paid for out of the council tax and why that authorisation hasn’t been
    sanctioned by the Full Council?’


    And here are the four call-ins to council by the opposition. If the Tories get their way, this will be the last time anything can be called in to council!  The first is an item regarding open spaces taht will be dealt with in private because it has been deemed confidential. The second and third are from UKIP. The fourth is a last-minute one regarding planning policies on density of housing developments, floorspaces etc.

     

    REFERRAL OF DECISIONS TO COUNCIL

    1 Draft Open Spaces Strategy
    1.1 Pursuant to Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rule 15(b) a requisition has
    been received in the names of Cllrs C I Black, M Hoy, J R F Mason and R A
    Oatham requiring that the decision under Minute 74 (Draft Open Spaces
    Strategy) of the meeting of the Executive held on 2 April 2014 be referred to
    Full Council.
    Note: The report in relation to this decision was exempt, so this referral will
    need to be considered following exclusion of the public and press and is
    picked up at Item 18 of the Council agenda.

    2 Collections Support Officer
    2.1  a requisition has been received in the names of Cllrs J Hayter, J C Burton and N J Hookway
    requiring that the Portfolio Holder decision on the post of Collections Support
    Officer be referred to Full Council.
    2.2 A copy of the decision and associated report is set out at Appendix A.
    2.3 The reasons given for referral are that the further work envisaged could be
    carried out more economically and reasonably by the existing workforce, in
    particular without putting at risk £11,650. Further, as there is £11,650
    available in case of no additional income, surely this money could be made
    available to support our sorely neglected front line services. These include
    the proper care and management of our parks and open spaces, the locking
    of our park gates to reduce crime, and the Rayleigh car parking fees issue.

    3 Essex County Council Call for Waste Sites Submission
    3.1  a requisition has been received in the names of Cllrs J Hayter, J C Burton and N J Hookway
    requiring that the Portfolio Holder Decision on a waste sites submission be
    referred to Full Council.
    3.2 A copy of the Decision and associated report is set out at Appendix B
    3.3 The reasons given for referral are that this will not be a fair and equitable
    service for the people who live in the East of Rochford District, and may
    encourage fly tipping. The Council should consider the following options:-
    (1) Two sites, one at Michelins Farm and one at the Eastern end of the
    Rochford District.
    (2) Accept the Michelins Farm Site for the Rochford District but re-instate
    the concession at Stock Road, Southend for Rochford District Eastern
    Residents.
    COUNCIL – 29 July 2014 Item 8
    8.2
    (3) Provide one centrally located waste site in the Rochford District
    accessible to all Rochford District Residents.

    Development Management Plan Examination – Proposed Schedule of
    Modifications to Development Management Submission Document
    a requisition has been received in the names of Cllrs C I Black, T E Mountain and R A Oatham
    requiring that the Portfolio Holder Decision on approval of the Proposed
    Schedule of Modifications to Development Management Submission
    Document (April 2013).
    1.2 A copy of the decision and associated report is set out in Appendix A.
    1.3 The reason given for referral is to allow the Full Council to discuss, amongst
    other items:-
    Ref MM4 “The density across a site should be a minimum of 30 dwellings per
    hectare, unless exceptional circumstances can be satisfactorily demonstrated”
    Ref MM9 “New dwellings (both market and affordable housing) must adhere
    to the minimum habitable floorspace standards set out in Table 3, unless it
    can be clearly demonstrated to be unviable or undeliverable.”
    Ref MM56 – “Regarding non-retail uses in primary shopping frontages.”

     

    A Slap In The Face

    Next Tuesday’s Full Council has a lot going on. But the most important thing is a motion from the Conservative Group.

    You see, Rochford has something called a cabinet system. Instead of decisions by a committee, most things are decided by the ‘cabinet’, an elite group of councillors. Sometimes they decide matters in cabinet meetings, but on many items they have delegated powers, so that the councillor dealing with, say , grass cutting, can decide something on grass cutting by himself.

    The plus point with this that its meant to be quicker. The negative is that the experience and local knowledge of all the 30 ‘ordinary’ councillors is ignored. The cabinet are all Conservatives and ordinary councillors aren’t allowed to speak or ask questions at cabinet meetings. Though we are allowed to watch, and, so far at least, breathe.

    There are two democratic safeguards in the council constitution allowing ordinary councillors to challenge these decisions. One is that the Review Committee, currently chaired by Michael Hoy from the Green Party, can ‘call in ‘ a decision for review, discuss it, and then send it back to the cabinet. The other way is that any 3 councillors can call in a decision to the next ordinary Full Council meeting. Please note that in the case of urgent decisions, there is no right to call something in.

    The constitution says that the powers should only be used in exceptional circumstances. And in fact there don’t seem to have been any call ins between May 2013 and April this year. But we haven’t had an ‘ordinary’ meeting of council since April, and there have been 4 call-ins since then. They all come to the council next Tuesday.

    These 4 call-ins seem to have upset the Tories immensely. They don’t like things being challenged.. So they have put forward a motion to abolish the right of councillors to call in things to full council. It is almost certainly going to be whipped through.

    So we will then have a situation where ordinary councillors will have no way of challenging a decision by one of the cabinet. That’s appalling. It’s a slap in the face for local democracy. It’s a slap in the face for anyone who voted for Liberal Democrat Chris Black, Residents councillor John Mason, UKIP’s John Hayter, Labour’s Jerry Gibson, or indeed Conservative Jack Lawmon, who isn’t in the cabinet.

    If the Tories want to speed things up, hold more frequent council meetings, or allow ordinary councillors to speak at cabinet meetings!

    Do You Want To Ask A Question?

    question mark

    The next full meeting of Rochford District Council is on July 29th at 7:30 p.m.

    it’s worth reminding everyone that members of the public can ask questions. The questions have to be submitted in writing to the council by midday 7 days before the day of the meeting, though ypun should normally come along and read out your question in the flesh. You get an answer , and you are then allowed one follow-up question. Here are the rules in full:

    10. QUESTIONS BY THE PUBLIC
    10.1 General
    Members of the public may ask questions of Members of the Executive, at ordinary meetings of the Council. The maximum time limit for asking each question is 3 minutes. The maximum time limit for a supplementary question is 1 minute.
    10.2 Order of Questions
    Questions will be asked in the order notice of them was received, except that the Chairman may group together similar questions.
    10.3 Notice of Questions
    A question may only be asked if notice has been given by delivering it in writing or by electronic mail to the Chief Executive no later than midday 7 days before the day of the meeting. Each question must give the name and address of the questioner and must name the Member of the Council to whom it is to be put.
    10.4 Number of Questions
    At any one meeting no person may submit more than 2 questions and no more than 2 such questions may be asked on behalf of one organisation.
    10.5 Scope of Questions
    The Chief Executive may reject a question if it:-
     is not about a matter for which the local authority has a responsibility or which affects the district;
     is defamatory, frivolous or offensive;
     is substantially the same as a question which has been put at a meeting of the Council in the past six months; or
     requires the disclosure of confidential or exempt information.
    10.6 Record of Questions
    The Chief Executive will enter each question in a book open to public inspection and will immediately send a copy of the question to the Member to whom it is to be put. Rejected questions will include reasons for rejection.
    Copies of all questions will be circulated to all Members and will be made available to the public attending the meeting.
    10.7 Asking the Question at the Meeting
    The Chairman will invite the questioner to put the question to the Member named in the notice. If a questioner who has submitted a written question is unable to be present, they may ask the Chairman to put the question on their behalf. The Chairman may ask the question on the questioner’s behalf, indicate that a written reply will be given or
    decide, in the absence of the questioner, that the question will not be dealt with.
    10.8 Supplemental Question
    A questioner who has put a question in person may also put one supplementary question without notice to the Member who has replied to his or her original question.
    A supplementary question must arise directly out of the original question or the reply. The Chairman may reject a supplementary question on any of the grounds in Rule 10.5 above.
    10.9 Written Answers
    Any question which cannot be dealt with during public question time, either because of lack of time or because of the non-attendance of the Member to whom it was to be put, will be dealt with by a written answer.
    10.10 Reference of Question to the Executive or a Committee
    Unless the Chairman decides otherwise, no discussion will take place on any question, but any Member may move that a matter raised by a question be referred to the Executive or the appropriate Committee or Sub-Committee. Once seconded, such a Motion will be voted on without discussion.

    These rules are in part 4 of the Council Constitution, which you can download from the council website here.

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    Daily Reporting by Chris Black

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    500 HOUSES BETWEEN LONDON ROAD AND RAWRETH LANE

    There's lots of information on the District Council website about the planning application "North of London Road ". To see it , just click here.

    The Core Strategy

    This is the official master document for planning policy in our district! To download it, click here click here. (2.5mb)

    Planning Applications…

    If you want information on a particular planning application, you can find it on the District Council website here.

    If you want to know what new planning applications have been submitted this week, click here.

    Reporting A Problem

    If you want to report a problem, you can email Lib Dems councillors by clicking here.
    There's also an independent website called FixMyStreet. It's very good for reporting minor street problems like holes in the road, grafitti or failed streetlights. You can find FixMyStreet here.

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