Following Councillor Betts (Conservative, Welling & Falconwood)
call for a vote on the sale of the four parks, Councillor Daniel Francis
(Labour, Belvedere) said he had some procedural questions and some on each of
the four sites. He would be “most unhappy” to move straight to the motion. “What
I am hearing is that one member believes the report completely deals with the
objections with no outstanding queries” - he was interrupted by Councillor Sharon
Massey who has no idea of how to behave at meetings but at least she did not
call Councillor Francis a ‘Dickhead’ on this occasion - but he ploughed on
anyway saying that “we should not be proceeding to the motion without a single
question having been asked”.
It seemed a reasonable point and the Chairman agreed, asking Councillor Francis to put his questions. The ‘questions’ were mixed with requests and statements.
• The Legal Officer was asked to remind members of the reasons why a Public Inquiry may or may not be necessary.
• There was a reminder that the Agenda stated that selling 26 sites would raise £710,000 and Agendas as far back as March 2016 had said the same thing.
• In contrast a Consultation had stated that four sites could raise £1 million.
• It had been stated that the land was designated neither Metropolitan Open Land nor Green Belt and clarification on what the designation was was requested.
• Councillor Francis was critical of the placement of the Legal Notice in the News Shopper and said that publicity in the Bexley Magazine would have achieved a wider distribution. (Councillor Massey attempted another interruption.)
• In reference to the West Street site it was said that only 30% of households in Erith received the News Shopper. It was only 1·33% in Thamesmead.
• Councillor Francis reminded the meeting that a Cabinet Member had said the final decision would be taken “tonight” and queried whether that might invalidate the decision making process. (The decision will go back to Cabinet and Council.)
• Impact Assessment advice was that disabled people would be disproportionately affected by the sale of parks. Was the Committee happy with that?
• Was there an investigation into why the Consultation email address was generating bounce backs?
Legal Officer Akin Alabi said unresolved objections should be considered by the General Purposes Committee “on their merits having regard to the guidelines”. The Committee must decide whether “the objections are of such a nature to make this an exceptional case”. It was a superb piece of waffle that without any legal training whatsoever I could easily have come out with myself. The “sheer voloume of objections” was of no consequence. “They do not import any significant point of law.”
Ms. Ainge and her colleagues attempted to answer the outstanding questions.
• She said the Consultation “would stand up legally”. There was no requirement to include any financial information in it.
• The two Wilde Road sites were designated for Residential Use and the remainder of the land under consideration was designated Urban Open Space.
• The Act only requires a single advertisement in the local newspaper and three were placed. (This in no way widens the distribution but Ms. Ainge was not interested in practicalities.)
• She confirmed that Cabinet had stated the final decision would be taken by General Purposes, but this was wrong, but her actions remained “compliant”.
• The impact on the disabled was “a judgment call” and it is for the Committee to consider. It might be resolved by “additional signage” to the nearby park. (The one which can only be accessed by means of a railway footbridge.)
• One respondent who experienced an email bounce back eventually managed to get his objection through the system so it was not an unresolved objection. Ms. Ainge believed there were no other bounce backs.
The Chairman suggested that the bounce back may have been caused by the sender’s error. Councillor Francis showed that the email which was eventually received bore the same email address as the one that failed - and was appended to the second attempt.
There was no comment on the £710,000 v £1 million question.
As you may surmise, Council officers have a glib answer to everything and when their actions have been less than perfect it is never of any real consequence. When all else fails, ignore the question. The result is predetermined and any concession would be more than their job is worth.
The opposition’s procedural questions were probably the result of much time consuming research among those 1,282 pages but the ensuing argument was no different to any number which go on in Council meetings. They are rituals that have to be gone through for appearances sake.
The opposition bowls a googly, the ball is allowed to run into the long grass and rarely is anyone interested in retrieving it.
What’s the point? They’d only change the rules. When the stumps are knocked from the ground, it’s always declared a no ball.
Not that Councillor Francis gets disheartened, he announced his intention to ask specific questions on the four sites for sale. It seems like a good time to end this report and maybe continue tomorrow.