This meeting was noteworthy for several reasons.
It started on a high point: Peter Groves took his seat as a new Parish Councillor, having stood for election, unopposed under the slogan "HELP Eliminate Letchworth Parish Council".
Public Open Forum
The Open Forum is where members of the public are given the opportunity to make statements or ask questions of councillors.
The meeting chairman, Cllr Ross, announced that he was allowing only 5 minutes for the Open Forum this time, and began to time it on his watch.
One member of the public asked Cllr R Smale of his opinion on the minuted statement by the Chairman of the Council that he considered NHDC should be dissolved, and whether this represented the view of the whole council. The Chairman immediately advised Cllr R Smale not to answer, and no answer was given.
Another member of the public wanted to address a question to the newly instated Cllr Groves. Before being permitted to ask the question he suffered repeated aggressive barracking from the Chairman demanding to know who he represented. He clearly stated that he represented himself, and had to do so several times before the Chairman let him continue to the question. The question was simply to ask Cllr Groves what he intended to do in his status as a Town Councillor. Cllr Groves answered to the effect that he would like to see Council spending reduced.
A third member of the public asked if he would be receiving a reply to his letter to the Chairman of 18th July 2008 which was as yet answered. The Chairman conferred with the Town Clerk as to the nature of this letter, and was told it concerned his comments on local radio about the Charitable spending of the Heritage Foundation. At this point the Chairman became suddenly very angry and started abusing the member of public with a variety of accusations about his intentions and allegiances with various local groups - in particular being a HELP member. This member of the public stated very clearly that he was not a member of HELP, but received continued loud, angry and abusive retorts from the Chairman. As it happens, this member of the public is not involved with HELP, and he repeatedly stated so, whilst being shouted down by the (now out-of-control) chairman who was banging his gavel for all he was worth. Even Cllr Groves declared he could verify that the member of the public was not involved with HELP, but the Chairman continued to shout down the member of public. Amongst other things, he shouted that the member of the public would not be receiving a reply to his letter. The Chairman appeared to completely lose his temper and finally suspended the meeting for 5 minutes. It appeared that all present were stunned by the chairman's inappropriate outbursts and loss of temper which seemed entirely unprovoked. A reporter from the Comet newspaper was present to witness the Chairman's extraordinary display.
When the meeting resumed, it was announced that the Public Forum was closed, despite it appearing that several more people had come along with questions.
The Chairman spoke about his going on the Town Twinning trip to Chagny in France and representing Letchworth in his capacity as Town Mayor. He told us how successful and popular had been the recent senior citizens' excursions, as well as the summer trips for kids. He informed us that the council had been unable to influence the plans for the Indoor Market, and laid blame with NHDC for making inappropriate decisions on the matter.
Also the chairman spoke about his on-going legal battle with the Heritage Foundation regarding his parish poll question back in April. He said that the Heritage Foundation was having him served with papers for High Court action. In addition all ten people who seconded his motion for the parish poll are also being served with papers for the action. He stated that although the action was being taken against him as an individual in his capacity as Chairman of the parish (not council) meeting, the council would be supporting him in his defence. He stated that the Heritage Foundation had given him opportunity to retract, and thus avoid the court action, but he was of the opinion that people should not be bullied by local bodies, and thus he would fight the legal battle. (This last statement seemed at odds with the recently reported Town Council legal action against an individual over the 'spoof' website).
Then the meeting moved onto the last agenda item, which Cllr Sayers introduced as the "Double Planning Issue". He reiterated the details of their first Double Planning opinion survey, and the second opinion survey, and finally announced his proposal. The proposal was to approve further spending for the Double Planning Issue. In this case the spending was for seeking legal advice on the Council's options for forcing the Heritage Foundation to adopt the Council's interpreation of their survey results.
Cllr Groves asked if it was within the rules to vote on a resolution that had not been forewarned on the Agenda. The clerk's opinion was that the rules allowed it in this case. Cllr Webb raised an objection, saying it was unfair to ask the councillors to absorb the matter on the spot and vote now. He referred to faults in the survey and its results, and asked for his objection to be minuted.
Cllr Webb then put forward an amended proposal which would not require the expense of taking legal advice, but rather to work in discussion with NHDC and the Heritage Foundation to produce a unified application planning process. Although seconded by Cllr Groves, the rest of the councillors voted against Cllr Webb's proposal.
They were then asked to vote on Cllr Sayers' original proposal. Cllr Bee pointed out that they did not know how much spending they were being asked to approve. The Chairman tried to push directly for the vote, but Cllr Bee persisted in first knowing the level of spending. Eventually the clerk indicated the initial estimate was in the order of £3,000. The vote was then taken. Only Cllr Groves and Cllr Webb voted against, and so the proposal was resolved by majority.
Other recent Parish Council meetings: