In all my time here, I don’t think I’ve (intentionally) attended a Parish Council meeting. There would be good reasons for that, the main being I am not sure I could…cope with the amount of (real, or imagined) idiocy that would be on display, the wilful committee-behaviour and localised bickering.
I no longer need to imagine it. On the plus side, I managed to only lose my cool once. Well, once where I raised my voice, the rest of the time I just had my head in my hands. Metaphorically and physically.
Let’s start with the raising-of-my-voice incident. Oh, sure, it is a trigger phrase, probably not intended the way it was meant, an overloaded term from where I come from. Three quarters of the way through the meeting, which lasted only an hour, though it felt much, much longer, there needed to be some correction on the rampant mis-representation of a certain road in our village. This road is part of my regular dog-walking route, quite literally round two corners from my house. I run down it, use it en route to the shops and pub, so let’s say I’ve been up and down it a time or two, and all times of the day and night.
‘Cars can only pass one at a time down it’, ‘People park on the pavement all the way along’, those sorts of statements. The first is true at one section, but nothing wrong with that, as it is legitimate parking on one side. The second is true, due to, well, people. But for most of the road, it is fine. ‘It is so bad, two cars were hit only a few weeks ago’. Now, that is correct, but nothing to do with the road.
What was the meeting about? A developer wants to build fifty houses off this road, and people were concerned about the amount of traffic coming from this mini-estate. Oh, I’ll use this interlude to remind myself of the funniest sequence of the night. So, it was asked how many car parking spaces this would hold (averages out at just over two per dwelling, bigger ones with more allocation, smaller with less. You know, the way it usually works.) Then it was asked what happens in twenty years time when those living there have children, who learn to drive, and now there are five, six cars per dwelling, where are they all going to park? Where indeed? WHERE INDEED. Truly a car-jumping-shark moment right there, folks.
There was lots of murmuring, agreement, loud acclamations of support, about the nature of this road. Nonsense. I raised my hand, and pointed out that I use the road regularly, and speeding, bad practise has nothing to do with the road, and all to do with the drivers. And the two cars that were hit? That was a drunk driver, took the sweeping bend too fast and ploughed into them. You know how he was caught? (He drove off home, was arrested there, in next village along.) His number plate fell off in the collision, and he didn’t notice.
At this point, it now looks like I am some developer plant or something. But a chap a couple of seats turns round to me, and says ‘And who are you?’ Well. There is only one inference I can take from that, and that is that I have no right to be here, to speak and to participate. Because I don’t sound like I come from round here. I might (might, mind) have retorted that I was highly offended by the question, and why did that even matter, this was a public meeting for locals, and I was local. I might also have used terms like ‘protectionist local’, and how this wouldn’t lower their house prices, but hey, why listen when I have to raise my voice (again) to be heard over the hubub.
Which neatly brings me on to the only other point I really want to make. The Parish Council were all gathered at the top table, name placards in front of them so we knew who they were. And I could see who the clerk was, but not the chair. Shall we go with the person at the centre? Seems…a viable proposition. The developers, there with their charts and plans, were invited to present first. Of course, it turns out they weren’t expecting it to be attended by the public, thinking it was a presentation to the council only. I’ll cut them some slack here, as I am sure they would have approached it differently if they knew. And besides, there is an all-day exhibition of the plans in the local church hall for all to see, and comment on. This chap was not the drainage consultant, how was he expected to answer detailed questions on that off-the-cuff? I’d have been impressed had he, but people were starting to grumble when he couldn’t.
After his short outline, the chair (…I think) invited questions from the floor. And this is where it started to go wrong. It was the worst chaired meeting I’ve ever attended. If you are going to take questions from the floor, you need a modicum of control. There was none. People talked over each other, while others were asking, while others were answering, three, four questions came at once, people got ignored, questions half-answered interrupted and then ignored as someone else came in. In fact, the questions were coming from the floor the whole time, unbidden, with no direction from the chair. With a little more control from the chair, I feel it would have been more worthwhile, not the nonsense I sat through. Unless, of course, the council’s plan was to let the mob mentality bully its way through…
A few of the councillors did speak, on points of procedure and on the inner workings of local government. Committee this, panel that, whatever. No one was listening anyhow. ‘The flood plain has been re-evaluated, and no longer covers this area’. Quick, let’s all shout conspiracy! Developer underhandedness! (I do find it a strange thing to happen, but it has happened nationwide, so NATIONAL CONSPIRACY!) sigh
You might be aware I love a good debate, but this was not that. A hatchet job, people already having made up their minds, truly not in their back yard. And this brought out the contrarian in me, it really did. They could have been all clamouring for world peace, and I’d have advocated nuking the earth from orbit.
As a final note, I’ve nothing against them building there. There are certainly engineering issues, to do with flooding, drainage, access, but nothing I don’t think that couldn’t be worked out, and if it turned out it was a risk, then the planning application should be thrown out. It has even been tossed into the ring yet.
If this is the state of ‘devolve powers to locals’, I don’t want it. Or perhaps I want a better sort of local. At least student politics was funny. This is more serious as here the busybodies can affect me. I wonder when the minutes will get posted, and how it tallies with my impression of it all.
Wait…this probably wasn’t representative of the good work the Parish Council does behind the scenes? No, really? I hadn’t thought of that, honest. Pfft.