Bexley Council meetings are not what they used to be, that is, reminiscent of a bear pit
with Cabinet Members aiming insults at the public gallery and Councillors aiming insults
at each other and I blame the webcasts for that.
Since they were introduced three years ago there has been no more than a couple of instances of Cabinet Members insulting members of the public, Philip Read had a go at Mick Barnbrook for questioning the rigged enquiry into the death of Rhys Lawrie and Don Massey rudely accused Chris Attard, a UKIP General Election candidate in 2015, of making false statements. He apologised later when he was proved to be wrong.
How I miss the old days when Mayor Val Clark could be guaranteed to make a fool of herself at every Council meeting she chaired. Her technique revolved around threatening members of the public with ejection on any pretext she could muster and occasionally sending letters to their home address to tell them exactly what she thought of them. And who could forget the frequent references to Sir Walter Citrine’s book on Chairmanship to justify her actions? I bought myself a copy for no other reason than to see just how poor Councillor Clark’s chairmanship was.
Yes I definitely miss the free entertainment provided by Councillor Val Clark.
Unfortunately I missed a trick by failing to notice that Val Clark had been promoted to being Chairman of the Planning Committee, I only got around to updating my list of Councillor jobs yesterday, and didn’t attend last week’s Planning meeting as a result.
Under Councillor Peter Reader, attending was rarely worth the effort of another late night. Councillor Reader ran the meeting in a businesslike fashion and as far as one could judge, was straight forward and unbiased. Not so Councillor Clark it would appear.
The main item on the Agenda (why did no one tip me off?) was the concreting of Old Farm Park. Bexley Council is inclined to develop it itself rather than have a house builder cream off too much of the profit. It makes the planning procedure a somewhat incestuous affair. With a Conservative majority there is absolutely no chance of such a scheme being rejected.
I watched proceedings several days after the event on the webcast.
Councillor Clark began by inviting anyone "with a closed mind" to leave the room. Not sure why she did but I expected all the Conservatives to get up and go, but that did not happen.
The outline application is for 30 houses and 30 flats in an area that Bexley Council claims has an excess of public space. Some are on three floors. 122 parking spaces are proposed, the four bedroom houses getting three spaces each.
Malcolm Wright the Chairman of the local residents association “fundamentally objected” to the sale and provided figures to demonstrate how Bexley Council’s traffic assessments were hopelessly wrong. He spoke of 20 to 25 minute hold ups already at the end of Old Farm Avenue. The loss of the green space and several hundred additional residents would add to public health problems and the application does not comply with the conditions within Bexley’s recently published Growth Strategy. GP average appointment delays in the area are currently in excess of four weeks.
In the recent past Bexley Council has turned down house extensions in Old Farm Avenue because of the impact on the park and the views into it but now it planned 60 dwellings.
Councillor Clark interrupted Mr. Wright after five minutes, not even allowing him to complete his sentence.
Andrew Riley who developed the plan said it would have no impact on local traffic densities and the trees to be lost were unimportant because they show signs of squirrels having lived in them. Oh dear!
Sidcup Councillor June Slaughter contested the claim that there was an excess of local green space and some will remember how she was proved right on this issue when the land sale was approved. What remains will no longer be a natural woodland. Three of the four 2,000 tree copses will be removed and the fourth reduced to half its former size. Councillor Slaughter is “almost ashamed to be a Member of Bexley Council”. She now realised that in accepting earlier answers to her concerns she had been “conned”.
The traffic survey does not correspond with reality and the local infrastructure cannot support the development.
Councillor Clark then warned Councillors who are not members of the Council that they could not speak unless they had registered a request to do so beforehand.
Councillor John Davey (Conservative, Crayford) was “not happy” and felt the proposals might “have more negatives than positives”.
Councillor Colin McGannon (UKIP, Colyers) said that much as he was in favour of new and affordable housing, the impact of the scheme on the environment was “a price too much to pay”. He later joined Councillor Hackett in moving a refusal.
Councillor Colin Tandy (Conservative, St. Mary’s) said “he had little doubt that the scheme will go through”. Val Clark then felt it necessary to warn members of the public not to comment. The webcast does not reveal why.
While Council officers were minimising the impact of the tree loss - apparently they were either damaged, in poor condition, over-crowded or occupied by squirrels - Councillor Clark issued another warning to the public.
Councillor John Waters (Conservative, Danson Park) said that losing the public space was “regrettable but the pros outweighed the cons”. The Chairman reprimanded the public again for something not seen by the webcams or loud enough to be picked up by the microphones.
Councillor Waters had more than the usual amount of difficulty with his microphone and could not be heard by the public. Chairman Clark offered to solve the problem by clearing the public gallery.
Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) said that the proposals were not in keeping with the area. It is “too dense and an over-development”. He was moved to refuse the application“. It will look appalling and be an absolute nightmare. It is completely unacceptable”.
Councillor Brian Bishop (Conservative, Colyers) did not want to see any of the houses or flats go to “buy to let” but “we have to build homes, where is the planning reason for a refusal? There are no strong grounds”.
Councillor Alan Deadman (Labour, North End) thought the number of car parking spaces was ridiculously high given that buses and trains were only five minutes walk away. Flats in the area were of no benefit to anyone except the Council and its need for “a few bob”. Doctor provision in Sidcup is among the very worst in South East England and school provision is poor.
The vote was then taken and the most amazing thing happened. In total contravention of Sir Walter Citrine’s definitive book on chairmanship, Councillor Val Clark led the voting by sticking her hand up twice. First to defeat Councillor Hackett’s move for refusal and a minute later in support of approval.
No one I have contacted has ever seen that done before in Bexley but Councillor Val Clark, with her experience as Mayor behind her, is well able to make up the rules as she goes along.
Once again the webcast fails to convey the atmosphere of a Council meeting and this report fails to convey the passion of those who reported proceedings to me by telephone and email.
May I quote a composite of views? “She is a terrible chair, condescending to the public and a miserable old bag to boot".
Looks like I will have to go to more planning meetings.