Democracy has an enemy, it’s called apathy, which is why everyone needs to get behind the campaign to get people registered to vote NOW and to push those who are either too busy or otherwise indisposed to get registering for a postal vote.
It’s not just the (county) unitary council elections this time, our parish council is also up for re-election, on which subject I’d remind fellow councillors that in the 2017 parish elections a few parish voting slips were thrown away because of lack of instructions about where they should go in the return envelopes. That had significance when the two-vote difference between two candidates was close enough for a recount to be called. I did raise the matter with Shropshire Council’s Returning Officer but I was accused of being mischievous, her attitude was that it was a parish council election and who cares about them. In other words, don’t make life difficult for someone who can’t accept that they’ve slipped up, despite clear Electoral Commission guidelines to Returning Officers NOT to take for granted that members of the public would instinctively know that the parish returns could be sent back in the large envelope alongside the sealed county returns envelope, an instruction that should have appeared in the instructions but didn’t. It wasn’t just a few elderly parishioners who were confused, a number of younger voters were also concerned that they’d “thrown away their vote”.
There are a lot of changes coming to the way our community develops. Planning laws are changing to give greater power to the executive to make decisions on our behalf which, roughly translated, means we’ll be told what we really, really need and have it explained to us in simple terms that can be expressed in that classic four-word riposte: “Like it or lump it”. Mummy knows best, although in this case Mummy looks and acts remarkably like a South American dictator.
You’ll have seen the CCTV cameras going up, largely thanks to the sterling persistence of our parish clerk, Ella Preston. It will cover the entire length of the village, from the junction of the main road at the pen factory end of Netherton Lane, to Haggs Corner/Bynd Lane/Netherton and on to cover the entrance to Highley at the top end. The system incorporates Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and although reactive (not “policed”), it is monitored by security cleared volunteers who can react to a reported situation in a matter of minutes from the control room in the police station at the Severn Centre.
On the 4th of last month I attended the Police & Crime Panel (PCP) meeting where I raised the matter of working more closely with our local SNT to overcome the additional constraints imposed by Covid, to the extent of including them in the list of regular attendees at our online parish council meetings, something that used to happen regularly on a face-to-face basis a few years ago. Hopefully, the promised new recruits will start feeding through into the divisions within the next few months and we can get back to how we used to work.
Of course the Highley Action Group made up for that loss of regular contact and in a lot of ways was mutually beneficial, not least the informal exchange of information that kept both the SNT and the parish council up to date with local trends, but there was still a need for a more formal set-up on a more regular basis and because, given the public platform on which the parish council operates, it demonstrated to the public that there WAS a partnership and that their concerns were being taken seriously. I think the February meeting with PC Steve Mellor was considered a success by all concerned.
I reported to the PCP how successful Steve Mellor’s attendance had been and also commended Inspector Nikki Roberts’ proactive approach to the management of our local SNT, suggesting that on the basis of the success of that first online meeting the Chief Constable might consider promoting that initiative to other SNTs encouraging them to ‘attend’ parish council meetings. In fact Nikki Roberts has written to all SNTs on her patch encouraging them to do just that!
The Licensing Act Sub Committee meeting on the 12th was of a complexity none of we three members had ever encountered before. Such meetings are by their nature an exercise in balancing probabilities, but this one was especially conflicting for me because I’d been dealing with a complex local example of how a “breach of conditions” can result in some pretty outrageous decisions that seemed to fly in the face of reason. In this case we were being ‘strongly advised’ to reject the application because of a ‘predicted’ public nuisance based on what had happened elsewhere, and there was I asking how come enforcement were happy to allow a public nuisance here caused by an admitted breach of planning conditions to continue just because the company had “mitigated” the nuisance, despite that “mitigation” failing on a number of occasions, causing the nuisance to re-occur. So in the Highley case we had an admitted breach of planning conditions allowed to continue, creating a dangerous precedent for a neighbouring development subject to the same planning conditions, whilst here we were being advised to refuse permission because of a public nuisance that had yet to occur. But then in drawing the distinction between justice and the law who said life was fair?
Otherwise it’s all been about what I call “domestic” stuff, not least highways. I took up a few local issues arising out of the way local people had been treated by Kier sub-contractors. A couple of those had involved people from outside Highley, but my reason for following through on them was because the incidents were symptomatic of the failure of both Shropshire’s highways contractors AND Shropshire Council management to actually supervise staff, because their attitude towards the people their work was directly affecting showed a lack of care that carried over into the sub-standard work they were being paid to do by Shropshire tax payers!
Independent County Councillor for Highley Division of Shropshire Council
23 February 2021