Friday, 25 July 2014

District Council: vote on restricting public speaking......... the decision

At Wednesday evening's full council meeting:
Futures Forum: District Council: vote on restricting public speaking........ full council meeting Weds 23rd July: further reports
... the decision was made to restrict members of the public from speaking at planning committee (or, DMC) meetings.

This is from today's Herald:

Latest local news & information in Sidmouth | Sidmouth Herald

There are several reports available on-line:

“If you want trouble, tell the public they can’t speak”

23 JUL

The above quote from Cllr Peter Halse, (Con) was quoted by Cllr Trevor Cope (Lib Dem) at tonight’s Full Council meeting, but these cross-party warnings fell on deaf ears. So did many others, including the argument from Cllr Ian Thomas (Con) that “to expect individuals to co-ordinate a response (to planning applications) is unrealistic” .

Changes to rules for public speaking will now go ahead, after tonight’s Full Council vote. More comment on the meeting on the EDA website 

“If you want trouble, tell the public they can’t speak” | Sidmouth Independent News


23rd June 2014

A vigorous evening at East Devon District Council’s Full Monthly Meeting, but I left with real sadness at a tragic lost opportunity.

Oddly, that opportunity had actually come a few weeks earlier – on the 2nd July – when the Cabinet was meant to “consider” Ray Bloxham’s proposed changes to the running of the Development Management Committee (Planning).

But sadly, three weeks ago the Cabinet members had simply nodded them through – without refinement or question or any discussion – in under ten seconds.

Things could be very different now if any one of Paul Diviani, Andrew Moulding, Ray Bloxham, Iain Chubb, David Cox, Ian Thomas, Phil Twiss, Stephanie Jones or Tom Wright had piped up and started a discussion.

As it was, they did not, and so things were ready for the rubber stamp tonight, until Independent councillors managed to force a debate. Then, it slowly dawned on the room that while a number of Conservatives were in favour of some of Ray Bloxham’s ideas, they were wholly against the element which restricted public speaking.

Ironically, one of the best speakers on this was Cabinet member, Ian Thomas – Mike Allen, too – but their problem was that it was now too late. If they’d thought on their feet and proposed an amendment to Cllr Claire Wright’s motion to delay implementation, it is likely that we could have had the best of both worlds. Some changes to Planning meetings to help hard-pressed councillors could have been made, but with the continuing protection of council tax payers’ opportunity to speak if they wish. But there was no obvious way to make such an amendment. Despite a long debate, it turned out all along that the die was cast. Undue Haste 1, Democracy 0.

Yet there had been some splendid ideas. Go back to an East and West division of planning discussions on separate committees to cut the load, for example. Or maybe some councillors could limit their own contributions to the tight three minutes under which the public have to speak at the DMC. There was a lot that could have been discussed, and seemingly a cross-party will to do so.

All it needed was the Leadership to show a lead. Alas, there was nobody up to the task.

So where does that leave us? If you are going to have up to 9 houses put up in your road, only 2 council tax payers will be allowed to speak to object. To be one of those two you will have had to write in first, then pre-register your wish to speak. For 10 to Infinity houses, or a supermarket, or even a nuclear power plant, just 5 people have the right to speak, again self-selected. And much else besides. Not good enough, and also wide open to abuse of process. Who chooses the 2, or the 5? And how?

But this report is very much my personal take on the evening and not an agreed view from the East Devon Alliance (which I currently chair). So, speaking personally, I am very unclear how the Leader of the Council judges that repeatedly insulting someone as obviously thoughtful as Cllr Claire Wright from his little podium lends dignity to his office. Cllr Douglas Hull had some wise comments to make about these insults, and on the boisterous barracking from some of the ampler councillors who did not enjoy her contribution. Tonight’s debate was essential – and without Claire Wright it would not have happened.

And speaking personally again, it is hard to fathom why the permanent officers we pay for – Messrs Williams and Cohen, and Ms Lyon – feel it is appropriate for them to chuckle, chatter and smirk when councillors are speaking. I feel some sympathy for the chairman, Graham Godbeer, a well-mannered man who is worth more than sharing a platform with such unattractive and arrogant conduct.

What can finally be said? Some hard-bitten people say you get the council you deserve. I feel it’s more nuanced than that. What is clear is that between now and May 2015 there is an opportunity to see if a fresh batch of councillors may come forward.


A baying mob ...

Wednesday, 23 July 2014 4 Comments by Claire

... Was how someone described to me how tonight’s EDDC full council meeting felt for them, as an observer...


3. At 05:10 pm on 24th Jul Tim Todd wrote:

I thought that the comment from Cllr Bloxham, to the effect that he had been censored by Cllr Claire Wright on this blog, was a cheap and nasty trick. It was a telling moment, but not quite as his buddies may have then thought. His suggestion that it was a result of personal intervention by Cllr Clare Wright is illuminating. It is the sort of assumption that comes from an unenquiring mind. Forget looking for the truth and the facts, go for the easy option and try and use it to embarrass. It is a behaviour more usually found in a children’s playground.

The comments came from a man who also spoke of having spent thirty years in the police - which left me wondering whether he had ever been taught to look beyond the first impression, to search for evidence and the facts.

His moment of glory, making his allegation and being encouraged by the baying mob, may be short lived. I suspect that some present, who urged a hasty close to the night’s business, knew full well that his being ‘censored’ by the blog was exclusively down to anti-spamming software - but allowing Cllr Wright her right of reply, and an explanation of that fact, would have ruined Cllr Bloxham’s night.

Knowing how his mind might work is important if he is to be entrusted with researching a project - such as public speaking restrictions.

What we should take from this stunt is that when Cllr Bloxham is entrusted to research a task we might be wise to question his investigative competence, and impartiality, when it comes to unearthing facts and giving a thoughtful and accurate account.

4. At 09:29 am on 25th Jul Sandra Semple wrote:

So, there you have it - we can’t speak at DMC meetings, pretty soon we won’t be able to get to the council offices if they move to Skypark and some of our councillors can’t discuss matters they want to discuss (EDBF and its relationship to Graham Brown and EDDC) because officers and the all-powerful Cabinet refuse to allow discussion.

In the meantime, developers have access to officers and councillors almost at will, jobs at Skypark will be filled by people commuting from Exeter and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee will neither overview nor scrutinise anything of importance. And, in this year where we are marking the commencement of the First World War, we have fine speeches about what we fought for.

Such is democracy in East Devon in 2014. Use your vote well in 2015.

A baying mob ... - Claire Wright

Meanwhile, whilst the District Council has imposed restrictions 
- the County Council has extended public speaking rights:
County Council - 24 July 2014 - Thu, 24th Jul 2014 - 2:15 pm - Devon County Council Webcasting
Procedures (DCC) - Mon Jul 07 2014
Public speaking rules set to be relaxed at Devon County Council - Claire WrightDevon County Council votes in favour of relaxing public speaking rules - Claire Wright.

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