After the dreadful fire in London, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea recently came in for much criticism, including from the government, for avoiding public scrutiny and cancelling a meeting.
What then of Amber Valley Borough Council? – Surely our local council, of which I am a member of the opposition group, would not want to avoid scrutiny? No? Well actually I am afraid it is a yes.
A few days ago, Councillors received a short email saying:
Please note that the Full Council meeting scheduled for 12 July 2017 has been cancelled.
The next Full Council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, 20 September 2017.
Best Regards,” etc etc
So with the last meeting being held in May, there will now be a period of 4 months – a 3rd of the year, with no Full Council meeting – and hence no chance for councillors to ask questions of the leader, pose motions to the council or indeed for members of the public to address the council. And they are still continuing to hold Cabinet meetings at 10.30 am rather than evenings, with very little public attending. Last week’s cabinet had only 4 people the previous only 1 member of the public.
So the question to ask here, of course, is why? Why would the council, led by Conservative Cllr Kevin Buttery, not want to hold any meetings between May and September?
I am informed by the leader of the Labour group that (he was told) the decision was taken not to hold a meeting, as they considered that there was not enough business to discuss. Let’s think about what members of the public, or indeed Councillors may have wanted to raise.
Well I am sure the local plan would have featured heavily.
Firstly, there is the fact that the public consultation on the local plan was not published nor made available to councillors until AFTER the decision on the local plan was made. I may have moved a motion to revisit the decision on the allocations to the local plan, in view of the now available public consultation.
Secondly, the high court decision to block the building of housing on Kedleston Road should also have been discussed. I would have expected the leader of the council to have made at the very least a statement on how this may or may not affect the local plan, and what other implications the decision may have for the Borough – and to have been open to questions on this from Councillors.
Belper residents may have wanted to know what is happening with the land off Field Lane in Belper, on which £1.6 million was spent (for the leisure centre that never was..) – Cllr Dan Booth famously announced that everything that the Borough owns is for sale – and the councils own papers confirm that the officers of the council are charged with the disposal of the land. We may have expected a progress report from the council leader – how is it being marketed, what use would the council expect of desire to be made of the land?
Perhaps the public may have wanted to raise in public speaking grass cutting; the state of some playgrounds; housing issues; the state of our cemeteries; or the little matter of the risk to the World Heritage Site being put into ‘at risk status’ bought about by the local plan allocations.
Regardless – I find it amazing that despite council tax payers paying between c£1100 and c£3300 a year in council tax, this particular part of local government can’t currently think of anything positive to do. Last week’s cabinet meeting only had only three items – ‘performance figures and targets’, a ‘dementia planting scheme with Alfreton TC’ and ‘Civil penalties and rents’. If some questions had not been asked it would have been over in 15 mins
It may well be because the finances are in a complete mess (they are). After wasting the money on Field Lane and £1million plus on local plan, and the implications of accepting the council tax freeze grant, it is not a surprise – but the public wants to hear what is going to be done about it. Currently the council seem to be relying on the new homes bonus to keep going – this is a sum equal to council tax on all new homes granted planning permission, for a period of 6 years. The incentive is to approve planning permission for big housing estates. Is this sustainable?
In May I completed my first year as a Councillor. It has been gratifying to be able to help dozens of individuals with their issues, from planning problems to anti-social behaviour, and it has been great to work with the community to oppose local inappropriate developments. However, watching the business of the council has been depressing. We have seen CCTV camera switched off (swiftly followed by a horrendous bladed weapon incident in the town); we have witnessed the closure of our town centre offices against overwhelming public opinion; we have seen a Local Plan bought forward at huge expense with no public consultation being taken notice off – with green belt, contaminated land and World Heritage Site Buffer allocations against all expert opinion – a Local Plan that seems again doomed to failure.
I have raised questions and placed motions to try and save the CCTV, World Heritage site and Town centre offices, and also to get the funding for the Tea Rooms in the River Gardens (by selling the aforementioned Field Lane Land). But the reality of being in opposition is that the Conservative group invariably voted on block to prevent any of these motions succeeding. I am also proud to have publicly raised the issue of the three local Conservative associations taking £5000 donations from local developers – not illegal, but something the public should be aware of.
Outside of Amber Valley control we now have the Babington Hospital set to close, with many services looking like they will be sent to Ripley and Ashbourne. That is another fight we will have locally.
It does seem, that in my first year as Councillor, that all the ruling group in Amber Valley have overseen is things being turned off, closed down or broken.