Can it really be nearly 15 months since Bexley Council first announced it
intended to plug some holes in its budget by selling parks? Their
ill-judged scheme was successfully
kept secret until Cabinet Member
Alex Sawyer blurted out their names on 10th February 2015. For some unaccountable
reason the locations were
not reported here for another week.
I was an instant pessimist about the prospects for saving the parks, I have seen how Bexley Tories operate far too many times and they will happily bulldoze any opposition and I have yet to see them live up to their strap line, Listening to you, working for you.
Councillor Leader Teresa O’Neill told us exactly what she was going to do and how she would ignore any alternative strategy as long ago as last July.
Teresa O’Neill speaking on 15th July 2015.
And so it turned out. No matter how many signed the petitions, or how big was
the response to the consultation exercise she tried so hard to rig, all objections were
ignored by the human steam roller. It came to a head last night when almost all
the Conservatives voted to sell half of Old Farm Park and three smaller ones.
But even in their hour of victory over residents they could not help themselves from indulging in one more dirty trick.
The normal course of events at a Full Council Meeting is questions from the public, questions from Councillors. left overs from the last meeting of which there were a lot last night, followed by a voluminous report from the voluminous Leader and finally, for last night, consideration of park sales.
The meeting didn’t start until 19:45 and by my estimation the Council was unlikely to get around to park sales until around ten o’clock, and park sales were what had drawn sixty people into the public gallery.
The Labour group thought they should be helpful to the public by asking the Chairman Mayor to bring forward Agenda Item 8 (park sales) to be Item 6, immediately after questions. This would allow the public to get away a good half hour earlier than they would otherwise.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) put the case forward by invoking Standing Order 13.
Leader Teresa O’Neill took Stefano rather too literally by interpreting “bringing forward” as “placing first” and went on to state the obvious; that it would place questions about the park sale after the park sale decision had been made. Not very clever!
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) clarified the request, “We should insert it [Agenda Item 8] after the public questions.” The Mayor thought “that everyone would be very confused by this, extremely confused.”
It may have been too much for the Mayor’s puny intellect but it didn’t look too complicated to me.
The Leader decided to make mischief by asking if the Mayor wanted what Councillor Borella asked for or for Councillor Francis’s clarification.
The Mayor asked Councillor Borella if he was requesting a time limit on consideration of the park sales, why she should think that I have no idea, but Stefano confirmed he was not.
However the Council Leader proposed a half hour time limit while the opposition protested. The Labour Leader Alan Deadman questioned the Mayor about the decision, but she, in effect, said we had heard all the arguments for and against park sales before. There was no need to hear them all again. “The arguments have been exhausted.”
Or to put it another way, the light should not be shone on Bexley’s democratic process for any longer than is strictly necessary.
A vote was taken on bringing forward a time restricted Agenda Item 8 to the very beginning of the meeting and inevitably the majority party won while we were treated to the rare sight of the opposition party voting against what started out as their own suggestion. Conservative sharp practice had stood Labour’s good intentions on their heads.
The public raised their hands on the No side too and the Mayor reminded them in full on headmistress mode that “you have no vote”. I think she will find she is wrong come May 2018.
You have to hand it to the Tories, it was pretty nifty thinking on their part to turn something intended to be helpful to members of the public into a means of screwing them rotten. Their questions were in effect invalidated. Bexley Tories really do exemplify the nasty party and sometimes I think the Labour group fails to take full account of it.
And so the meeting limped into its first substantive Agenda Item, flogging the family silver. Cabinet Member Peter Craske was first to get stuck in with his proposal to sell four parks.
I am not going to report his speech in detail because it was almost word for word the irrelevant diatribe he spouted at Cabinet. In essence, “Bexley is a fantastic place to live with fabulous parks and open spaces so let’s close a few, no one will notice”.
It didn’t go down too well with members of the public and after four minutes of Craske droning on, the Mayor issued the first of her many threats to clear the public gallery.
Crimson Comedian Craske created much mirth by saying that “a vote against park closure is a vote for politics and against playgrounds” but after just short of seven minutes he thankfully gave up on the jokes and was jeered off.
Next on stage was someone lucky enough to live in a house that backs on to a park all of her own. Oblivious to the fact that park sales were never mentioned during the last election she said “the pledges we make at election time are what we want to deliver or else the electorate will do exactly what they did in 2006 to the party opposite”.
“In 2014 we pledged to build on our previous achievements [but] just like our residents we have to live within our means by setting a balanced budget. Sometimes the actions you have to take aren’t popular but we have to do what is best in the interests of the majority.”
“We know that our parks are valued by residents, we also know that residents won’t appreciate not being able to use them as they do now if they aren’t maintained.”
“Some say we won’t keep the pledge to use the money to maintain existing space but we are not in the [obscured by public gallery laughter] of breaking our pledges.” The Leader repeated the lie that Council Tax has been kept low in Bexley. Compared to other boroughs it is worse than when Labour was in power.
When the Leader took the weight off her feet Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) was invited to speak followed by many others, some for some against.
They included everyone’s favourite buffoon, Councillor David Leaf. As always his priority was to fling mud at the Labour party, I am still awaiting something constructive to come from him. Whether his insults are up to the standards set by Cabinet Member Don Massey is a difficult call. His contribution is probably two or three more installments into the future.
Note: Apart from the anti-democratic trickery the opening addresses were fairly low key. Things became a little more exciting later. The timing of meetings is set by the Constitution so the problems associated with rearrangements are not as simple as might initially appear.