That's democracy for you

August 06, 2009 3:48 PM

Bath DCC 5.8.09


I want to point out here that I apologise for the use of acronyms; the alphabet soup of our government just gets more absurd by the day.  Onto the plot…


Yesterday I was back in Bath for yet another Bath and North East Somerset Council Development Control Committee meeting (the planning committee to you and me) to speak against the Bath Rapid Transit scheme.  The plans involve tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, the problems of which were set out here.


Bath DCC meeting 1


On top of all the practical and financial problems with the scheme, the most unbelievable aspect of yesterday’s DCC meeting was that it even took place.  The last meeting in July voted 6-5 against the plans.  That should have been the end of it – the DCC isn’t the European Union, after all.


If that wasn’t bad enough, the committee membership had changed.  A dissenting Tory councillor who opposed the plans was replaced, meaning the make up had changed which – as it turned out – affected the vote.  On a point here, how is it right for the leadership of the council to gerrymander committee selection when the votes don’t go their way?  It’s bad enough telling the committee to vote twice, it becomes a farce when the council leadership can pluck people from the committee when they disagree with an individual planning matter. 


Speaker after speaker lined up to oppose the plans.  Those few in favour, however, raised some eyebrows.


Bath DCC meeting 2   


As you’ll see from the scan of the speaker line-up, Jeremy Smalley works for B&NES council.  How can his position provide an impartial objection when his employer is the applicant of the plan?  How about number 15, The Applicants Agent.  The Council are the applicants, so it’s a clear conflict of interests when they get one of their own officers to stand up in support.  How daft…well, not really when you realise only 17 people wrote to the council in support of the plans.  Compare that to the 762 who wrote letters of opposition and you can see why the council had to pull in the reserves to even reach 15 supportive speakers yesterday.


Onto the more substantive points, I spoke about the funding of the plans.  Outrageously, the preparatory notes said that funding of the scheme isn’t a material consideration for the committee when it comes to its judgement.  That was one of my points of objection – the council were agreeing to something without having locked in absolutely rock solid guarantees of funding. 


On 27 July, a letter from the Department for Transport – who are due to give B&NES £50 million for the scheme – stated that it is beginning to question whether the scheme “should continue to be prioritised for central funding”.  Between the lines it says that the cuts are coming.  The DfT have already committed themselves to funding additions to the M25 and electrifying the rail route between London and Swansea.  These are big, important commitments the government has taken on that affect the country as a whole.  By comparison the BRT is small fry, and the considerations of keeping the ruling Tory group on B&NES happy is going to be the last of the government’s considerations when the time comes that they have to pull the plug because of the gigantic black hole in public finances.


Bath DCC meeting 3


This fell on deaf ears, I am sad to say.  One councillor, the first to speak in the councillors’ debate, even had the temerity to say that the deferrals of previous votes meant the authority had ‘lost the faith of ministers’ in Whitehall.  I sat stunned.  Here was a Tory councillor pleading with the committee to pass the BRT so that the likes of Harriet Harman can have faith in the leadership of B&NES.  Councillors should be willing to fight to hold back the tide if their constituents want it.  Nothing else should matter.


But given that there are doubts expressed least of all by the DfT that the BRT will not get central funding, the councillor’s pleas sounded as if we weren’t in a recession, that the money was sat in a bank account waiting for the BRT to be approved so it can jump into the council’s pocket.  It was a statement ignorant of political realities – I made the point that, if the money isn’t there, then the people who will pay are sat in the room right now.  Despite all this, the DCC voted 7-5 in favour of the BRT.


Come next Spring, the residents of B&NES will get a higher council tax bill and will see rate increases from here on in because this package has been passed on a gamble.  Technically, the DCC voted to ‘mind’ to accept it, which means it goes to John Denham, secretary of state of the Department of Communities and Local Government who will adjudicate on it.  So we shall wait and see.


Finally, I will note two things – for a council committee to get away with a disgraceful attitude to democratic principle sickened me.  No means no.  When a party criticises institution A for not accepting a ‘no’ vote, it shouldn’t welcome institution B asking for a re-vote.  Secondly, the DfT have given the clearest indication yet that funding for the BRT will not necessarily follow.  Why, therefore, is the DCLG signing off on this plan? 


That is our government, ladies and gentlemen.  Don’t we have a lot of work to do…

Bath DCC 5.8.09


I want to point out here that I apologise for the use of acronyms; the alphabet soup of our government just gets more absurd by the day.  Onto the plot…


Yesterday I was back in Bath for yet another Bath and North East Somerset Council Development Control Committee meeting (the planning committee to you and me) to speak against the Bath Rapid Transit scheme.  The plans involve tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, the problems of which were set out here.


Bath DCC meeting 1


On top of all the practical and financial problems with the scheme, the most unbelievable aspect of yesterday’s DCC meeting was that it even took place.  The last meeting in July voted 6-5 against the plans.  That should have been the end of it – the DCC isn’t the European Union, after all.


If that wasn’t bad enough, the committee membership had changed.  A dissenting Tory councillor who opposed the plans was replaced, meaning the make up had changed which – as it turned out – affected the vote.  On a point here, how is it right for the leadership of the council to gerrymander committee selection when the votes don’t go their way?  It’s bad enough telling the committee to vote twice, it becomes a farce when the council leadership can pluck people from the committee when they disagree with an individual planning matter. 


Speaker after speaker lined up to oppose the plans.  Those few in favour, however, raised some eyebrows.


Bath DCC meeting 2   


As you’ll see from the scan of the speaker line-up, Jeremy Smalley works for B&NES council.  How can his position provide an impartial objection when his employer is the applicant of the plan?  How about number 15, The Applicants Agent.  The Council are the applicants, so it’s a clear conflict of interests when they get one of their own officers to stand up in support.  How daft…well, not really when you realise only 17 people wrote to the council in support of the plans.  Compare that to the 762 who wrote letters of opposition and you can see why the council had to pull in the reserves to even reach 15 supportive speakers yesterday.


Onto the more substantive points, I spoke about the funding of the plans.  Outrageously, the preparatory notes said that funding of the scheme isn’t a material consideration for the committee when it comes to its judgement.  That was one of my points of objection – the council were agreeing to something without having locked in absolutely rock solid guarantees of funding. 


On 27 July, a letter from the Department for Transport – who are due to give B&NES £50 million for the scheme – stated that it is beginning to question whether the scheme “should continue to be prioritised for central funding”.  Between the lines it says that the cuts are coming.  The DfT have already committed themselves to funding additions to the M25 and electrifying the rail route between London and Swansea.  These are big, important commitments the government has taken on that affect the country as a whole.  By comparison the BRT is small fry, and the considerations of keeping the ruling Tory group on B&NES happy is going to be the last of the government’s considerations when the time comes that they have to pull the plug because of the gigantic black hole in public finances.


Bath DCC meeting 3


This fell on deaf ears, I am sad to say.  One councillor, the first to speak in the councillors’ debate, even had the temerity to say that the deferrals of previous votes meant the authority had ‘lost the faith of ministers’ in Whitehall.  I sat stunned.  Here was a Tory councillor pleading with the committee to pass the BRT so that the likes of Harriet Harman can have faith in the leadership of B&NES.  Councillors should be willing to fight to hold back the tide if their constituents want it.  Nothing else should matter.


But given that there are doubts expressed least of all by the DfT that the BRT will not get central funding, the councillor’s pleas sounded as if we weren’t in a recession, that the money was sat in a bank account waiting for the BRT to be approved so it can jump into the council’s pocket.  It was a statement ignorant of political realities – I made the point that, if the money isn’t there, then the people who will pay are sat in the room right now.  Despite all this, the DCC voted 7-5 in favour of the BRT.


Come next Spring, the residents of B&NES will get a higher council tax bill and will see rate increases from here on in because this package has been passed on a gamble.  Technically, the DCC voted to ‘mind’ to accept it, which means it goes to John Denham, secretary of state of the Department of Communities and Local Government who will adjudicate on it.  So we shall wait and see.


Finally, I will note two things – for a council committee to get away with a disgraceful attitude to democratic principle sickened me.  No means no.  When a party criticises institution A for not accepting a ‘no’ vote, it shouldn’t welcome institution B asking for a re-vote.  Secondly, the DfT have given the clearest indication yet that funding for the BRT will not necessarily follow.  Why, therefore, is the DCLG signing off on this plan? 


That is our government, ladies and gentlemen.  Don’t we have a lot of work to do…

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