County Councillor’s Report to Highley Parish Council – March 2021.

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!

Dave Tremellen

Independent County Councillor for Highley Division of Shropshire Council

23 February 2021

#79: I hope you lot are sitting comfortably…

I’ve written elsewhere about how relaxed Shropshire Council is about “standards”, although in most of the cases I’ve written about, by standards I’m referring to the ethical standards that are supposed to govern behaviour in public office, not necessarily the professional standards that govern (or guide) the way in which an official function is carried out – in other words, the function not the form.

Back in 2015, once I’d been identified as the mover of the Code of Conduct Complaint against then-leader of Shropshire Council Keith Barrow, my phone and email system started filling up with messages. It was mind-blowing to someone who still retained (although by then more in hope than expectation) the idea that local government was about public service.

And the phone calls keep coming, even now, one of which had me looking at the phone in disbelief, such was its potential to blow a hole in some comfortable lives over an incident that some people are probably still hoping has been consigned to historial loss of memory.

What I was hearing started alarm bells ringing – very loud alarm bells – alarm bells that wouldn’t switch off because current events in a certain part of north Shropshire were, as a result of that telephone call, taking on a significance beyond what you’d gather from bland newspaper reports of otherwise mundane activities at a certain parish level.

Investigations are ongoing. (Love that phrase.)

But where were we? Oh yeah, standards, professional competence, whatever, or rather professional incompetence compounded by a refusal to accept that a mistake has been made, pride having come before what would have been a fall big enough to teach even the most arrogant that had they only swallowed that pride, neither they nor the innocent parties their actions have impacted on would find themselves being written about here.

AN ASIDE: It is usually a case of Shirehall protecting its own, which is more the pity because there are so many council officials who don’t need the protective ring of silence that characterises the Shirehall Establishment upper-echelon response to reports that most “decent people” find shocking when they learn about them. The lower ranks just get on with the job they’ve trained to do – and usually do it bloody well.

TNS. What about it?

Well, talking about professional competence, or lack of, Oswestry’s TNS (‘The New Saints’ Football Club) is the flagship case in this instance, where an otherwise well-intentioned public sector initiative (run by people engaged in activities well beyond their level of competence) created the conditions for a cock-up that handed a local businessman an opportunity that he’d have been an idiot to ignore.

It was a complex case, rendered unnecessarily complicated by the refusal of Shropshire Council’s legal department to discuss it with the group who had amassed box-files of background information, both formal in terms of the EU legislation (State Aid) covering such financial transactions and the internal emails that were so revealing of the faulty reasoning that those responsible for the transaction had depended on, creating a situation that could only go one way – down!

Rather than stop that downward spiral into an even bigger mess, the old staples of commercial confidentiality and ‘an ongoing court case’ were rolled out (plus a few lies).

I was actually offered the chance to “view” the material that Shropshire Council was relying on to reclaim the £80,000 of public sector money it had given out in something called a ‘legacy grant’, but as the offer to view was conditional on my not talking about what I’d seen, and as I knew how complete our own investigations had been, it was likely that what I’d be reading in those ‘confidential’ papers was stuff we already knew. Had I then published ANYTHING, and had that contained even a hint of the same material in both dossiers, then how could I defend against a charge of breaching that confidentiality condition? How do you prove that you already knew about what the official files contained, and how do you prove that you already had more information than the official version contained? That last was particularly annoying given that we had offered all that material (gathered and collated without the constraints that official channels are, errr, constrained by) to Shropshire Council’s legal department and had the offer turned down!

So I declined the offer to view. (Although I did, subsequently, read the official Audit Department report and commended it to other councillors as a very good read – given the constraints the report’s author had had to work around – but it said only what had happened without speculation about why or more importantly how. That I had to read it in a locked room (really) with a member of the audit department sitting alongside me was pretty strange, but at least I wasn’t frisked when I went in.

It’s not worth going over all that detail again, suffice to say that it was obvious from the most cursory of readings that the people involved in the scheme simply didn’t understand what they were dealing with. Shropshire Council’s legal department possibly did, but because of the high level people dealing with the grant (councillors – both Shropshire county and Oswestry Town Council – as well as Shropshire Council service directors) they seemed to have chosen not to take oversight of the scheme. That’s where the ultimate failure lay, subsequently compounded by a series of high-level deflections from the truth by people who don’t care what anyone thinks of them, and who in fact don’t HAVE to care because they’ve got away with it for so long thanks to the comforting ring of steel known as a constituency association. I wrote about it in ‘#27. The power of patronage.’

Patronage plays an incredibly important part in the formation of the power groupings, it’s power magnified by the social cohesion created by political party constituencies exercising their power and influence. It isn’t just about financial and back-office support, it’s the moral support they offer through the social functions that draw like-minded people together, confirming bias, the groups thus created forming the bonds that bind; break the bond and you threaten the cohesion of the group. Dare to do that and you’re dead – politically and socially. To a member of any mainstream party that’s the end of the civilised world.

There had been a lot of shuffling of feet when the TNS matter was raised at a meeting of Oswestry Town Council (OTC) by Cllr Duncan Kerr’s submission of a report by Private Investigator Paul Wiseman, the subject having been made an open agenda item against the wishes of many of the town council, including its leader, Cllr Vince Hunt, but to his credit the OTC town clerk held on to the principle of openness and transparency and it all came out. One of those “STOP THE PRESSES!” moments. Sweet.

I was at that meeting, having been in Oswestry anyway for a meeting of our informal investigative group who, having heard that this particular agenda item was scheduled and as the subject matter sort of resonated with those of us who had been so closely involved in the Morda ransom strip saga*, we trogged across to the town hall and sat and listened – spellbound.

*See: #24. When the burden of proof is on trial.

This was big stuff and we didn’t have to look hard to see the same faces staring back at us and hear the same names cropping up. And that made us start wondering.

It was actually the deafening silence that descended on the whole thing that grabbed me because, as the saying goes, people seemed to be getting away with murder, so time to rattle a cage or two.

I was incredulous that when Paul Wiseman’s report was presented to OTC and the matter entered the public domain and direct questions were asked of the then CEO of Shropshire Council (Clive Wright) and the (by six months, relatively) new Leader of Shropshire Council Peter Nutting, who dismissed concerns over the revelations as “old news”, saying that it had been on his desk since he’d taken over as council leader six months before. So what, his innocent face said, is all the fuss about? It’s all in hand, no need to make a fuss.

Hmmm. I wasn’t convinced and this was my submission to Standards.

Submission…

That Cllr Peter Nutting, Leader of Shropshire Council, deliberately withheld information regarding the unlawful circumventing by others of Regulations in relation to state aid and acted, with others, to forestall independent investigation of serious breaches by Members and senior Council officers of Shropshire Council’s Code of Conduct..

BACKGROUND

I was made aware of a potential financial scandal involving The New Saints Football Club of Oswestry (hereafter referred to as ‘TNS’) at a meeting of Oswestry Town Council (OTC) on the evening of 29th January 2018, having travelled to Oswestry for a meeting of the (informal) Taxpayer’s Oversight Committee in connection with other matters. On learning from others present that one of the items on the OTC agenda was “a loan made to TNS”, the decision was made to attend the OTC meeting where we were handed details by the Town Council Clerk of an investigation by Mr Paul Wiseman relating to the non-repayment of an £80,000 loan to TNS by Shropshire Council.

Listening to the subsequent debate by members of OTC, the seriousness of what had happened was brought home to me, especially as Members and officers of Shropshire Council had been closely involved from the outset and I was curious to know to what extent, to which end I submitted a two-part written question to the full meeting of Shropshire Council due to meet on 22nd February 2018.

Despite the written question being sent before the deadline for Member’s Questions, it happened that the question was not received by Legal & Democratic Services in time for inclusion in the agenda because it had somehow been retained in the Shropshire Council email system ‘Outbox’, clearly date- and time-stamped with the actual date and time of sending. (I subsequently learned on impeccable authority that such occurrences are not as rare as originally thought).

When that situation and the circumstances that had caused it became apparent Claire Porter, Head of Legal & Democratic Services, offered me the choice either of having the question added to the agenda as a loose-leaf inclusion or to have the question passed directly to the person best able to answer it, I chose the latter in the hope of getting a speedy answer. At this date, 19h March 2018, I have yet to receive an answer, let alone the common courtesy of an acknowledgment.

BASIS OF MY COMPLAINT

Subsequent to the above, in an interview with BBC Radio Shropshire on the 26th February 2018 (MP3 file attached), Councillor Nutting admitted that he had been aware since taking office as Leader of Shropshire Council on the 15th May 2017 of the issues surrounding the setting up and non-repayment of that £80,000 interest-free loan to privately-owned Oswestry-based company TNS in May 2012.

That interview suggested the possible reason my question to Council had not been acknowledged, despite having been personally forwarded to whoever was thought best to address it by the Head of Legal & Democratic Services, Claire Porter; it was not because the answer was not known but because the decision had been made to ignore it by whoever Claire Porter had sent it to.

Why?

The difficult-to-ignore conclusion was that that would only have happened to avoid embarrassment to the Council and to those departments and individuals involved in what had all the ingredients of a major scandal that dwarfed anything ex-councillor Keith Barrow had been found culpable of back in December 2015.

Whilst Keith Barrow’s failure to disclose DPI could arguably be explained as the “oversight” claimed by him in interviews to the Shropshire Star following his resignation, this current “TNS case” had all the indications of, at best – given the individuals involved – incompetence on a major scale possibly involving a subsequent cover-up.

NOTE: I personally read nothing into Keith Barrow’s being one of the principle players in the case (he was Leader of Shropshire council at the time and a member of Oswestry Town Council), despite the initial loan application having been instigated by him, because he sought legal advice on avoiding issues concerning the law governing State Aid to commercial organisations and had proceeded on the basis of that advice.

The loan was made under the guise of a grant known as a Legacy Grant on advice from the Legal & Democratic Services of Shropshire Council, as evidenced in an email (attached) dated 21 May 2012 from Shropshire Council Community Action Manager #### ###### to an individual whose name has been redacted on the email, which states:

We have received further advice from colleagues in legal and can now confirm the details of exactly how we should proceed with how this grant should be approved and made to ensure that there are State Aid issues to consider.

The email, one of a series of exchanges between #### ###### and the Legal & Democratic Services, then advises:

Within the application form can you state something along the lines of ‘TNS would like to apply for an 80K grant and will consequently voluntarily make grants of £?p.a. (confirm)? years (confirm) to Oswestry Town Council for purposes to be agreed by the Joint Economic Partnership’. This will show that the ‘repayments’ are being made voluntarily by TNS and not as a condition (which will lead us back into loan territory).

The form of words was used to hide the fact that a taxpayer-funded interest-free loan was made to a privately-owned company contrary to State Aid rules, the latter being circumvented by the use of the financial device known as a Legacy Grant, the change of its legal status from a “loan” to a “grant” being wholly dependent on repayments being made not directly to Shropshire Council but to a third party, Oswestry Town Council, through a separate entity, Oswestry Joint Economic Board, established with the sole purpose of accepting repayments of the loan, the first repayment being due on the 1st January 2013.

All of that based on…

…further advice from colleagues in legal […] of exactly how we should proceed […] to ensure that there are State Aid issues to consider.’

NOTE: the syntax of that underlined section, whilst confusing, in no way alters the tenor of the message which advises the recipient that potential “issues” over the use of ‘State Aid’ should be avoided by using a financial device specifically established to create the impression that the taxpayer monies paid did not constitute an interest-free loan to a commercial entity.

Councillor Nutting’s description of the issues as “complex” (ref: BBC interview) is disingenuous. A simple, plain-English, explanation of the terms of the loan was readily available to him from the first day he assumed his position as Leader of Shropshire Council when, as he testifies in the interview with BBC Radio Shropshire’s Joanne Gallacher, he checked the papers sitting on his desk. All he had to do was ask the Speaker of his Council, Councillor Vince Hill, who, as a member of the Oswestry Joint Economic Board at the time of its establishment and subsequent dissolution, could have unravelled the “complexity” by giving him chapter and verse.

He could also have asked Shropshire Council’s Director of Place and Enterprise, George Candler, who was also a member of the Oswestry Joint Economic Board at the time of its establishment and subsequent dissolution, who could also have unravelled the “complexity” and given him chapter and verse.

He did neither.

The question Councillor Nutting chose not to ask when he found this issue sitting on his desk almost 12 months ago was why, just eight months into the term of the loan, in January 2013 when the first repayment was due to be made, the Oswestry Joint Economic Board, set up to administer repayments of the Legacy Grant, was dissolved. It ceased to exist.

There was nothing to which the repayments could be made and Oswestry Town Council received none of the monies it was entitled to under the explicit terms of the Legacy Grant, the legality of which was wholly dependent on the explicit terms of the repayment schedule being met.

That TNS, Oswestry Town Council, members of the Oswestry Joint Economic Board, Executive Councillors and Cabinet Members (including ex-councillor Keith Barrow, then Leader) of Shropshire Council, together with senior officers of Shropshire Council, knew of the removal of any means of the loan being repaid and knowingly did nothing to recover the monies paid (illegally once the mechanism that circumvented the legal “issues” of using State Aid to support a privately-owned commercial venture had been dismantled) clearly renders them severally and jointly culpable for whatever offence may have been committed.

On the basis of Councillor Nutting’s own admission, his was not a sin of omission driven by ignorance but a clear sin of commission driven by a deliberate decision to ignore the facts when he became aware of them almost twelve months ago.

On that basis, my formal complaint against Councillor Nutting is that contrary to Shropshire Council Code of Conduct, his decision to ignore the facts to avoid having to address the case outlined above is not consistent with maintaining public confidence in this Authority.

His actions ran contrary to the explicit principles of Shropshire Council…

[End of submission.]

“Explicit principles?” The Nolan Principles:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-7-principles-of-public-life

The Code of Conduct Complaint was submitted to the Standards Committee and there was found to be “No case to answer”. No surprises there then.

ISOLATED INCIDENT?

Lots of similar examples since, including the one where a Shropshire councillor was found guilty of having seriously abused theIr position to try and influence a planning decision in favour of a friend. Significantly, for the protection of the council’s self-image, as a matter of course, whilst the outcome of that Standards Sub Committee meeting was published, the offending councillor wasn’t identified, begging the question: whose reputation was that supposed to be protecting?

ANOTHER ASIDE: A few years ago, I was in conversation with a member of the Conservative group talking about the chaos that surrounded the TNS case and he – a principled man, which is why we were friends – said: “Dave, when we stand for election and get in, we hand our reputations to Shropshire Council and we have every right to expect them to look after it and every right to complain when they don’t.” Never forgotten that.

Out of pure bloody-mindedness I still ask what happened to ‘openness and transparency’, but I often wonder if my regular readers still bother because they know the answer – to question what happened to something implies that it did once exist but remains now only as a distant memory to be treasured.

Are somethings best left to quietly die a noble death, only to be remembered on the anniversary of their passing? Bugger that, our Establishment would love that to be the case.

MORE OF THE SAME?

Depends where you look and who you have doing the looking for you because there has been nothing to compare with Shrewsbury Town Council selling off part of the Greenfield Recreation ground in October 2017. The mayor back then was (Labour’s county and town councillor) Jane Mackenzie. but the deputy mayor was Peter Nutting, who of course was by then Leader of the Local Planning Authority – Shropshire Council.

Shropshire Council and Shrewsbury Town Council are joint defendants in ongoing court cases brought by local residents opposed to the sale of the recreation ground, Shropshire Council for granting planning consent, Shrewsbury Town Council for selling while the land was held in trust.

Now, whilst the residents have to find the costs of fighting the case themselves, Shrewsbury Town Council and Shropshire Council’s costs will be met by Shropshire council-tax payers.

As an elected Member of Shropshire Council, in the event of the ongoing case going against them, I’d like to ask Councillor Mosley if (with his Shropshire Council hat on) he intends to challenge Shropshire Council about how much the ongoing legal action has cost Shropshire Council taxpayers and in the event that Shrewsbury Town Council did not conduct the sale correctly will he be lobbying for full restitution of the cost incurred by Shropshire Council?

That would indeed be something to watch.

Our major investigator has personal experience of buying land off Shropshire Council which the council didn’t own, so if a council that has a ‘specialised’ team can’t get it right…

Well, it begs a few questions, not least of which is whether the same thing happened as happened over the TNS case, where those who would otherwise have exercised “due diligence” let their guard down because the sale and subsequent permissions were taking place with the knowledge of powerful local politicians who gave the impression that they knew what they were doing – and why, indeed, would anyone question (let alone challenge) such powerful personalities?

Why indeed.

PS: The claim against TNS for recovery of the £80,000 “grant” was subsequently dropped by Shropshire Council CEO Clive Wright when the prospect of getting the monies returned would be something of a phyrric victory given that the legal costs would probably exceed the £80K claimed. Can’t say I didn’t warn him, based on the two hour (open and frank) meeting I’d had with Mike Harris, the owner of TNS and his managing director, when the “other side of a messy story” was explained in considerable and very revealing detail.

#78: Right, you’ve got ten minutes…

At full council on Thursday 17 December 2020, the item below, 1.0 Summary, appeared as a matter of routine addressing the matter raised by Leader of the Council Peter Nutting, who holds that title as leader of the majority political group on Shropshire Council, the Conservative group. The distinction is an important one and goes some way to explaining why it seriously pisses me off to see headlines that say: “Shropshire Council voted to…”, instead of: “the ruling group at Shropshire Council voted to…”, or: “a majority of Shropshire councillors voted to…”.

Shropshire Council is ALL of its elected Members, not a portion of them and lumping us all together creates the impression that no one had either voted against or abstained. In short, it is not a homogeneus body moving as one towards a single outcome.

But that is democracy at work. No one has said it’s perfect, just better than most.

Anyway, this is what appeared…

QUESTIONS ON NOTICE FROM MEMBERS

1.0 SUMMARY

1.1 To consider amendments to Part 4 the Constitution (Council Procedure Rules) relating to questions on notice from members at meetings of the Council.

2.0 RECOMMENDATIONS

2.1 That Part 4 of the Constitution, Council Procedure Rules, be amended by the deletion of the second paragraph of 15.3, “Questions on Notice at Committees and Sub-Committees,” and the insertion of an additional para graph after 15.4 “Notice of Questions” as follows:

15.5 Number of questions

A period of up to 30 minutes shall be set aside at each meeting when normally up to six questions will be heard. If notice is received of more than six questions for the same meeting, priority will be given to questions in accordance with the order in which they were received. At any one meeting, no Member may submit more than two questions.

There is currently no limit on the number of questions from members that can be asked at full Council which can lead to the member question session becoming cumbersome and repetitive.

The current limit on the number of questions on notice that can be asked at any one meeting of a Committee or Sub Committee contained in Part 4 of the Constitution at Paragraph 15.3 may be appropriate to apply also to full meetings of the Council.

In order to ensure more than one Member has the opportunity to ask questions, it is proposed also to limit the number of questions any one member can ask at any meeting to two.

Now, quite apart from admiring the ingenuity of what at first glance might appear to be sanctimoniousness, the council’s ruling group could, with this formula – if they so choose – create the opportunity to effectively block all but their own agendas by simply submitting a list of questions guaranteed to take up all available time. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

I opposed the motion.

It’s worth looking at what prompted the move and to do that we have to take a closer look at the two main opposition political groups, Labour and the Lib Dems, particularly the former whose leader is renowned for a monotone delivery that is without inflection and modulated only in volume. Dedicated to his socialism, once into his pace, he is guaranteed to bore for England on behalf of his Party. If he ever found himself at the head of a revolution, the guillotine wouldn’t be needed because the unbelievers would have died of boredom when he was reading out their death sentences.

Whereas the leader of the Lib Dems, a nice bloke, is so intent on making his points that he will repeat them over and over until he is sure that no one has missed the finer points of the issues he is desperately keen to have us all understand the full import of. Nothing wrong with that and commendable – up to a point – but I’m often left wondering if the point where he eventually stops and sits down is when even he realises he’s heard it all before just minutes ago. But like I said, he’s a nice guy, guilty only of caring too much.

How does a Lib Dem think? Like a Lib Dem and you only realise you’re not thinking like a Lib Dem when you get the disapproving look from one of their number. They’re good at that. I remember back when the ‘Syrian refugee crisis’ kicked off and David Cameron was committing to bringing in asylum seekers direct from the refugee camps in that benighted country.

I was concerned that the only mention of refugees was about Muslims escaping ISIS and, having read an open letter in the national press and broadcasts on the media from Archbishops Carey and Welby (hardly the most xenophobic right-wing of clerics) pleading that CHRISTIAN refugees be given EQUAL (not greater, equal) asylum status to Muslims, I circulated their open letter to all councillors before the Full Council debate on what Shropshire was prepared to do.

During a later debate that morning I had to go to the loo and in the corridor outside the toilets passed Lib Dem Charlotte Barnes (no longer with the council) – if she’d had a knife, despite her caring Lib Dem heart she would happily have plunged it deep into what she obviously thought of as my black soul.

For circulating a letter from two Christian archbishops? What had I missed?

Meanwhile, the media was reporting officially recorded cases of Syrian Christian refugees not only being thrown out of refugee camps but finding themselves heading for Turkey sharing a leaky boat with muslim refugees and unable, when challenged, to quote passages from the Koran from memory, were being summarily thrown overboard together with their children.

Fast forward to this January and the last meeting of the Performance Management Scrutiny Committee. Directors of service were there to answer queries about moving Shirehall to the Pride Hill shopping centre in Shrewsbury, in the process moving virtually all in-house-administered operations to a virtual platform, Covid and the need to work from home having “shown that it can be done”.

I asked first of all why the Executive thought that Shropshire Council was immune to the kind of online cyber attack that had crippled the NHS. Answer came there none.

Having more or less accepted the inevitability of the move to Pride Hill, given that work had already started on the process, I had a second question about what provision had been made for disabled parking because (following the green agenda) there has been a move to “discourage” use of private vehicles, the implication (clearly signalled) being to promote the use of public transport.

Now I genuinely don’t have a problem with “going green” (just the way the Green Party has politicised it with their particular strain of socialism), but I do have concerns since I am now disabled because cancer has eaten away part of my spine and I was particularly anxious to ensure that disabled members of the public – on those occasions when they have to attend a council office on official business – could depend on finding a parking place and, from there, make their way to whichever administrative office they needed to attend. Not a question of particular significance to most people, but one that needed asking because no one else had!

Part way through that second question, the leader of Shropshire Council’s Labour group obviously started to panic because my own question to the officers who were there to justify the move from Shirehall to Pride Hill was taking up time that he wanted.

Ignoring all protocols he started shouting over the top of me, face filling the screen.

Taken completely by surprise (as was everyone else in the meeting), I was so angry at the outburst that at first I could only stare at the screen in disbelief. But then Mosley’s rant broke through the shock and I shouted back: “Christ, Mosley, you’re a piece of work”, told the chair I was leaving the meeting and switched off before I completely lost it. I was shaking with rage for a good hour afterwards.

He’s an interesting character is Alan Mosley. Very aware of his position as leader of the Labour groups at both Shrewsbury Town Council and Shropshire Council, where the group trails way behind that of the Lib Dems (and trailing in the dust of the Tories), it’s a different story at Shrewsbury Town Council where the Labour group are in the majority, which makes Alan Mosley the ‘de facto’ leader of the town council in the same way that Peter Nutting is referenced as the leader of the county council.

Shrewsbury Town Council have a Mayor who is the ‘face of the council’ during their year in office, but given the ceremonial role of mayors they’re largely irrelevant in the power-brokering stakes, especially when you have someone like Alan Mosley pushing all the back-office buttons.

Tellingly, ex-mayor Labour councillor Jane Mackenzie gave up the Labour Party whip…

https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/politics/2019/11/11/former-shrewsbury-mayor-leaves-labour-party-over-toxic-culture-claims/

It’s interesting to see how Councillor Mosely uses his position at town hall to bolster his standing at Shirehall, actually playing on the interests of Labour’s limited power base in and around urban Shrewsbury and at Shrewsbury Town Council and – an interesting tactical mutuality which few observers have noted – sharing self-interests with those North Shropshire Tories neighbouring Shrewsbury to the disadvantage of the rest of Shropshire, as evidence the massive discrepancy in funding between the north and south of the county, with the north getting ten times more funding than the south.

https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/politics/2018/08/10/revealed-north-shropshire-gets-10-times-more-capital-spending-than-south-of-county/

But it isn’t just the south of the county that can find itself losing out, as residents neighbouring a local Shrewsbury recreation ground have found out. But that’s another story.

Report to Highley Parish Council, February 2021

County Councillor’s Report

In these reports I try my damnedest to stay positive, especially with us being surrounded by a doom and gloom pierced only by a vaccine-generated sunbeam that holds out the glimmer of hope of an end to this fearsome pandemic, but these are supposed to be reports of what I suppose are the “political” (small ‘p’) events that affect our uniquely compact community, and finding anything positive in what’s happening at the soon-to-be closed Shirehall is, without putting too fine a point on it, more than just a tad difficult. I make no apology for treating my audience like adults and reporting on things as they are.

Highways remains the focus of attention it’s been for as long as I can remember, except that the intensity of that focus has increased by an order of magnitude in direct proportion to the cuts in Shropshire’s highways budget.

Knowing how hard highways has been hit by Shropshire’s need to meet the ever-increasing cost of children and adult social care, it is difficult to be critical of portfolio holder Steve Davenport without qualifying the criticism by saying that whilst it isn’t all down to a failure of strategic management, the complete lack of supervision at ground level points to lack of effective operational management at the point it’s most needed. The obvious, although ideologically problematic, solution to that would be to do what I’ve advocated for many years… bring it all back in-house!

Councillor Pete Vinall did a run from the B4555/B4363 junction (Kinlet end) to Eardington to assess the latest highways work and came back with what we expected – a catalogue of failures that in my crude way could be summed up in two words, the second of which would be “take”.

The other issue that has taken up a fair bit of time has been the vaccine roll-out. I did ask Peter Nutting where he’d been whilst neighbouring council leaders were challenging Shropshire’s position at the bottom of the vaccination league table, but answer came there none. Not that I expected one, to be honest, Peter Nutting is not only a believer in but an advocate of the policy of ‘ignore them and they’ll go away’. A seasoned politician, he has arrogant disregard programmed into his DNA. He doesn’t care because with the lockdown and a move to a virtual council, the shift of power from the elected body to the Executive is pretty much complete. Shropshire Council is now a business.

That was a realisation that hit me a few years back, not long after Peter Nutting replaced Malcolm Pate in a palace coup that saw him wreak a terrible revenge on those who had conspired to get him removed from his Cabinet position. His first declaration as leader of the ruling group at Full Council following the 2017 local elections was to dismiss the Planning Task & Finish Group whilst it was still deliberating changes to the make up of the planning committees. He didn’t suggest it, he didn’t ask for it to be put to the vote, he declared it as a matter of fact. He started as he meant to go on!

Which explains why we’re still waiting for the outcome of whatever deliberations were supposed to take place over the provision of a ‘safe’ crossing to protect children emerging from the access to the 20-home development behind the telephone exchange. The “treat ‘em mean” (without the “keep ‘em keen” bit) philosophy practised by Peter Nutting has been adopted and honed to perfection by Shropshire’s planning department. If anything personifies the arrogant disregard of Shropshire Council for the impact of planning decisions on Highley it is what is happening with the TC Homes development.

Remember, there is a condition on that planning permission that states that the houses cannot be occupied UNTIL a crossing is in place, something which a highways planning officer was supposed to be working on. A few weeks back the head of planning, Ian Kilby, gave TC Homes the go-ahead to build the houses, mentioning “improvements” to a crossing that doesn’t yet exist and which no one involved in the development (including TC Homes) has any idea about. I questioned Ian Kilby about that. I’m still waiting for an answer. The officer dealing with the matter simply ignores all emails, but she does have a reputation for that. (When I chased up an answer to an earlier enquiry I had an email from TC Homes thanking me because they had also been waiting on an answer to the same question. Now that’s not just unprofessional, it’s bad.)

There have been changes in our Safer Neighbourhood Team, PCSO Sue Eden having retired in December after a long and distinguished career with the police. She was a great officer to have working for us, kind and professional and not afraid to speak her mind. I’m not aware of any plans to replace Sue directly, but a new sergeant looks as if she might bolster the team, I just hope she sticks around because we need people who want to know the area well enough to respond to concerns that might not be important in the greater scheme of things, but important enough to upset a settled community like ours.

And for the first time ever, at last week’s Performance Management Scrutiny Meeting I stormed out of a meeting after an angry exchange with the leader of the Labour group, Alan Mosley, who had arrogantly barged into my asking a question about disabled parking at the proposed relocation of Shirehall to a new civic centre in the Pride Hill shopping centre. It was a display of arrogance that put Peter Nutting to shame and for which there was no excuse, not that Alan Mosley needs an excuse to steam-roll his way through anyone else’s concerns. But as a prominent member of Shrewsbury Town Council and indifferent to what happens elsewhere in the county, he was only living up to his form.

He was angry that I appeared to be taking up time that he wanted for himself, time constraints on questions from Members now being more tightly enforced. The irony is that those constraints are designed to rein in people like Alan Mosley whose monotone political ramblings are what makes him one half of what I call “the suicide squad”. Asked by a councillor friend what I meant by the expression, I explained that by the time Mosley and one other (who shall remain nameless to protect, in this instance, the innocent) had finished their monologues you were on the verge of slitting your wrists.

Dave Tremellen

Independent Member for Highley Division of Shropshire Council.

26 January 2021

#77: Standards Matter. Really? (Or: ‘What’s your problem?)

As you do, in lockdown (now there’s a word now in everybody’s vocabulary) in the middle of a pandemic, I was recently reading ‘Standards Matter 2: Independent Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL)’, September 2020. [https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/standards-matter-2-public-consultation-and-public-sector-survey]

Oh to get out more!!

Promoted as a ‘landscape review of the institutions, processes and structures in place to support high standards of conduct in public office’, it struck me that the whole canon of published standards could have been written with Shropshire Council in mind because escape clauses abound, and we all know that where Shropshire Council is concerned it is escape clauses that matter not the bulk of whatever they appear in, although I doubt the authors saw them as loopholes for Shropshire Council’s Executive to squeeze through.

But at least Shropshire Council didn’t take this one at its word…

There should be mechanisms in place to investigate breaches of the Code, although these can vary depending on the processes put in place by the local authority; these might include the creation (or maintenance) of a Standards Committee, but this is not a requirement.

…because Shropshire Council does have a Standards Committee, even though it takes the bit highlighted in red as the start and end of its commitment, in a sort of: “Oh, OK, thanks, we’ll take that and interpret it in the loosest way possible” which, in Shropshire Council’s book, means relaxed to the point of indolence.

Likewise, as if the report’s authors were familiar with Shropshire Council’s approach to minor irritants like literal interpretations of standards and codes of conduct, the adoption of a Standards Committee was done with fingers crossed behind backs because…

The presumption that hearings should be held in public.

Well you can forget that!

Not only do SC hold their hearings in closed session, they won’t even identify who the action is being taken against, as evidence the case of a Member who was “alleged” to have lobbied one of the planning committees on behalf of someone she knew!

So what price the expectations enshrined in ‘The Seven Principles of Public Life’ (also known as the Nolan Principles)?

…integrity, objectivity, selflessness, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership – were first articulated by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1995. The principles are not a general moral code, but a set of ethical responsibilities that outline the expectations of public office.

Well, what about them?

In the case of Shropshire Council, where those expectations are quite low, the presumption is that in the absence of outright criminality (and even then at a push) the presumption of innocence should prevail, and that even when found guilty the accused should not be expected to carry the burden of that guilt by being named and – heaven forbid – shamed into mending their ways.

In fact the presumption goes further, in that unless the outright criminality involves aggravating factors that can’t be ignored, then the presumption is to give the benefit of the teeniest weeniest doubt, however arguable.

For the record, “aggravating factors” are when financial or other personal loss is involved, which sort of rules out those pesky nebulous ethical responsibilities that the general public still naively take to be the expectations of public office because, after all, whilst it’s alright pointing the finger, if you can’t actually put your finger on something and squash the life out of it, it doesn’t count for much. It certainly isn’t something the police would get out of bed for. (see #24. When the burden of proof is on trial.)

Well, it’s a view that certainly makes for a quieter life for Monitoring Officers, even those who, in what were once regular briefings on ‘Standards’, insisted that regardless of any arguments to the contrary, what should always be uppermost in the minds of Elected Members is “public perception”.

Attending a number of briefings given by the Monitoring Officers of neighbouring Local Authorities, I (used to the reality not quite meeting what was being said) asked if they genuinely believed what they were saying in this regard and was asked why I asked that question. I cited a number of instances (all of them related in these blogs over the years) and eyebrows were raised, but my query was answered in the affirmative, quite strongly actually. Answering the question what local authority I was from, in one case got the response: “For god’s sake don’t repeat what I’ve just said!” That got a knowing laugh from some of those present.

And it isn’t just Shropshire Council (although it does tend to get a mention quite often). Every edition of Private Eye has pages of the stuff in its regular feature ‘Rotten Boroughs’.

One issue that is particularly irritating is the failure of Monitoring Officers (and Shropshire’s isn’t alone in this) to insist that councillors give details of political sponsorship in their legally required ‘declarations of interest’, some local authorities do and some don’t, and the reason given by Shropshire Council – that a councillor’s “political sponsorship is obvious from their stated political allegiance” – is disingenuous to the point of being downright dishonest, because every candidate standing for election for a named political party is sponsored in the form of their election expenses and back-office support.

NOTE: As an Independent I am indebted to NO ONE except the voters who continue to re-elect me on the basis of my constituency record.

Again, we find ourselves talking about what’s true within the letter of the law but NOT the spirit of the law: that nothing should be taken for granted, especially not when it comes to public perception, something that Shropshire Council’s legal department makes much of in public but are a bit coy about when challenged.

Still, they do come into their own at election time, except…

I recently circulated an email asking a general question of all Members about what they thought the prospects were for our seeing the regular local elections in May this year (2021), particularly whether anyone saw the prospect of a wholly postal vote to get around the logistical problems presenting by the Covid pandemic.

I got a response from Council Leader (of the Ruling Group) Peter Nutting which said that they were waiting on confirmation from central government on the form any such election would take. A postal vote wasn’t ruled out and therein lay the concern that had prompted my question – except that it wasn’t just concern, it was bloody real fear of a repeat of what had happened at the 2017 local elections!

My response to Peter Nutting’s reply was…

Thanks Peter, the point was to at least open up the subject in order to inform the decisions of current and potential Shropshire Council members.

I’m glad I did because it’s obvious from the replies so far that there has indeed been an exchange of conversations which, if shared at the time, would have gone some way (albeit not very far) to inform everyone likely to be involved in this year’s local elections, even if it was just to confirm the uncertainty that we now all take for granted.

As I intimated to Pauline (Dee, leader of the Independent group at the late Shirehall) in an earlier email, I have particular concerns about the administration of the 2017 local elections which I don’t want to see repeated – nothing to do with my own election because I was re-elected with a significantly increased majority – when there was confusion in some (particularly but not exclusively the elderly) postal voter’s minds over what to do with the parish council voting returns; I had empirical evidence of voter’s having been so confused by the lack of clear instruction on how to return the parish voting forms that they simply threw them away.

Voters had been told to put the county council voting slips into the envelope clearly marked for that purpose and seal it. There was no such instruction for the parish council voting slips and so, rather than enclose that slip with the voter ID form in the larger, clearly marked for anything but a postal voting slip return envelope, they threw it away.

The result for the Highley Ward was so close that recounts were held. One parish councillor of 30 years standing lost his place by 2 votes!

I was first made aware of what had happened in an informal discussion over the outcome. The person I was talking to said they hoped what they’d done hadn’t affected the outcome.

Puzzled, I asked why.

They’d opted for a postal vote because they’d been away on holiday during the elections and, in the absence of clear instructions and unsure of what to do with the parish return they’d thrown it away. OK, I dismissed it as of no consequence, it was one vote. It happens. But in the context of a losing margin of two votes? Hence their concern. This was an intelligent, professional woman in her 40’s.

Now, as exceptions often do prove the rule I decided to ask around. I didn’t have to spend too much time asking because when I asked if she knew how the elderly residents in her care had coped with the postal vote, the local Housing Support Officer said that one of her elderly residents was worried that they’d “get into trouble” for having discarded their parish voting slip because they had, following the “clear” instructions about what to do with the county council envelope, been left with nowhere else to put the parish slip, that I realised there could have been a real issue. It proved not to be the only instance.

So I looked into it and found clear guidance to Monitoring Officers on the Electoral Commission website advising them that, in their instructions to voters, they should not assume that everyone would know what to do and how to do it. I forwarded that guidance to Claire Porter (Shropshire Council Monitoring Officer with responsibility for elections) who did not take kindly to it.

So if we do end up with a postal vote across the board I’d like to see the instructions to voters couched in plain English in terms that allow no possibility of doubt because the 2017 outcome should not be allowed to happen again.

Regards,

Dave Tremellen

Member for Highley Division of Shropshire Council

Answer came there none. At the time of bringing to her attention that serious flaw in the way that postal votes had been administered, Claire Porter more or less accused me of lying in order to make ‘political capital’. And as for the clear guidance to Returning Officers by the Electoral Commission (hardly the most political of government institutions), which I’d produced to support my case, she dismissed it, ‘summarily’ comes to mind!

Begs the question: ‘OK, so if standards do indeed matter, is it really a question of by how much and to whom?’

Appears so.

County Councillor’s Report

(First published in the Highley Forum January 2021 edition.)

Happy New Years all round.

Well, we got here, eventually, but by golly what a trip it’s been, uphill all the way to get to 2021, let’s hope it’s now a steady, even run and that cresting the hill after the uphill bit doesn’t lead into it all going downhill because, for sure, there’s a lot of change on the way and not all of it for the better.

Covid aside, on the Shirehall front, until we’re sure about the impact of the vaccine on re-opening business as near as possible to normal, with the local elections still – as far as anyone knows – scheduled for May, whether the talked about changes to the way the county council runs will still happen is in the hands of the gods.

As I’ve said in earlier articles, the various statements of intent that have come from the Shirehall Executive need to be considered in the light of events that have happened in previous years, especially because we’ve seen earlier policies completely overturned by a change in personalities at the top proving, as always in politics at any level, that even a week is a long time in politics.

But it’s what is happening at a national level that will see us impacted the most, especially the proposed changes to planning legislation. Within days of your reading this article a survey will be dropping through your door asking for your opinion on “affordable housing” in a scheme called ‘Right Home, Right Place’, what it won’t tell you is what worries me the most.

We already know that we have a lot of local people desperate for an affordable house, a better house, no argument there, an affordable house is a good thing, what isn’t always so good is the place where such houses are built, the 20 affordable houses behind the telephone exchange being a case in point. With an access opening onto a bend in the main road just along from the brow of Benn’s Bank, the children from those 20 family homes will be heading for school across a stretch of road generally acknowledged to be one of the most dangerous in the village!

In response to my pleading for the safety of those children, the planning committee placed a condition on those 20 houses stating that they should not be occupied until a suitable crossing point has been established. The developers have been given the go ahead to start work despite there being no crossing point and none in prospect. Logic is there none!

Looks like fingers crossed for 2021 then.

Dave Tremellen. January 2021.

#76: Through the wrong end of a telescope darkly…

I refer you back to blog #74: BOLT THAT STABLE DOOR, QUICK.

If you haven’t already read it, this item won’t make as much sense because what you’re about to listen to is Shropshire Council Cabinet making my point for me, specifically those parts where portfolio holder Robert Macey spells out why what’s happening is happening (or having to happen according to him and whichever planning officer wrote his script for him)… basically he seeks to convince us that there is no choice, despite the alternatives having been spelled out in considerable detail in the submissions made by dozens of ward councillors on behalf of their communities.

The portfolio holder’s craven arguments in response to the arguments of members of his own political party underlines the Executive’s confidence that their own arguments will prevail; that with an election pending in less than four months time (Thursday 6 May) NO ONE in his party will dare challenge him in any meaningful way if they wish to retain the ruling group’s (for which read the various constituency offices) support for their candidacy.

In blog #74 and others preceding it I have consistently made the point that alternatives to Shropshire Council’s preferred site for Highley do exist, and moreover exist in abundance, and that their challenging insistence that they have chosen the site DESPITE the alternatives available merely means that those alternative sites remain available for future consideration. That’s a point worth registering.

According to Shropshire Council’s calculation that 250 more houses in an already over-stretched Highley might be in the immediate pipeline, but as many again remain available for the future. That was the planning officer’s response to me when I called in the (preferred site) Yew Tree Grove application to the planning committee meeting.

#75: WHAT IT SAYS ON THE TIN ….. ALLEGEDLY

In an earlier blog, I cited the ‘Rural Toolkit’ which is set out in Shropshire Council’s Core Strategy (para 4.66)…

4.66 Shropshire Council is adopting a “bottom up” approach, whereby it works with communities at the parish and village level in together undertaking an intelligent analysis of the nature of their local community and how their village functions, and how it can be improved. This is done through an interactive toolkit that starts with the Parish Plan or Village or Town Design Statement where available; secondly adds statistics compiled by Shropshire Council, such as Census data, to provide a quantitative basis for discussion; and thirdly engages with the local community in a Community Testing Event to arrive at an agreed view of how the community regards its current sustainability. This methodology will provide quality evidence to help the planning authority make robust decisions on the designation of Community Hubs and Community Clusters. Undertaking the assessment does not commit a community to seek Community Hub or Community Cluster status. The approach is detailed further in the SAMDev DPD.

[https://www.shropshire.gov.uk/media/8534/core-strategy.pdf]

In that earlier blog I cited it in the context of “consultation”, or rather Shropshire Council planning department’s unique take on the meaning of that word, but here I’m referring to the bit that says:

…adds statistics compiled by Shropshire Council, such as Census data, to provide a quantitative basis for discussion;

It’s that ‘quantitative’ claim that’s in question here, “quantitative” having suffered the same conceptual corruption (!) as “consultation”, judging by the perverse way in which Shropshire Council planning department treats statistics like those in its chosen version of the national population census (see below), but then there’s always the old saying: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics’.

For some years it’s bugged me that whilst I refer to Highley’s population being “3,600 plus”, according to Shropshire Council planning department it’s substantially below the figure I’m quoting, and quoting mind you, from published population figures taken from the 2011 population census, not scribbled on the back of a bloody envelope.

According to Shropshire Council planning department it’s 3,200, and yet, apparently, I hadn’t actually been wrong.

But hang on, you can’t have it both ways.

Errr, apparently you can and that’s where it starts to get both interesting and confusing.

My argument is that Highley’s infrastructure has long exceeded the point of saturation, its highways network crumbling, damaged by construction traffic and the consequential increase in commuter movements, its commercial centre clogged by the increase of vehicles associated with growing families compounded by the children of those families having reached the age where they qualified for a driving licence and acquired their own car.

All that on top of those parts of the village relating to its coal-mining past having no off-road parking, meaning on-road parking between Victorian terraced houses had reduced streets to a single carriageway.

And yet it seemed that the planners simply couldn’t get their heads around a situation I was emphatic wasn’t a case of me over-dramatising, they simply quoted that population figure of 3,200 back at me as if to say: “Councillor Tremellen, you’re wrong, you’ve got at least another 400 to go before you reach the population figure you’re saying is the problem”.

Now, it’s worth noting that my 3,600 figure was the one given by the 2011 census and which, incidentally, appears in many council documents, since when Highley has had another 122 houses built since 2013, which MAY go some way to explaining why, despite their insistence on that 3,200 figure, in the email below they’re saying:

The most recent estimates for local authorities are for […] mid-2017. The 2017 mid-year figures estimate there are 3,716 people resident in Highley ward (and Highley parish as they share a boundary.) [See below]

Apparently unaware of the significance of what they’re saying they go on to state:

These estimates are useful for service planning…

AAAARRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!

But I’m jumping ahead a bit. To get back to where I was, so confused was I by the planning department’s ability to vanish 400 people that I wrote asking for the methodology they were working to, and in answer got…


Sent: 20 August 2019 14:39
To: Dave Tremellen <Dave.Tremellen@shropshire.gov.uk>
Cc: Adrian Cooper; Dan Corden; Steve Taylor; Ian Kilby
Subject: RE: Population

Dear Cllr Tremellen,

Adrian Cooper has asked me to respond to your query.

I’m sorry that it is confusing. The difference in the population estimates stems from the geographic area that has been used to estimate the population, the availability and the time frame of the source data.

2011 Census

I have attached a map illustrating the Highley Parish boundary (with 3,605 population, covering 638 hectares), Highley electoral ward boundary (with 3,605 population, covering 638 hectares) and Highley 2011 Census Built-up-area (BUA) (with 3,133 population, covering 87 hectares). As you have highlighted this data is from the 2011 Census. Also included in the map is Highley development plan boundary. As this has been created for planning purposes, population data is not available for this area from the 2011 Census.

So far, so good.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the population estimates from the 2011 Census on the ONS Nomis web-pages – https://www.nomisweb.co.uk/census/2011. The information collected at household level from the 2011 Census questionnaire is held securely by ONS and will be published after a century has past. ONS take measures in releasing the data to prevent the disclosure of personal information and this can sometimes lead to slight variations (+/- 1-3) in the tables they publish.

The following link opens a 2011 Census Profile for Highley Parish – https://www.shropshire.gov.uk/media/12070/highley.pdf and similarly to enable comparison with the other market towns and key centres, the Highley Key Centre Profile utilises the parish boundary population – https://shropshire.gov.uk/media/9685/highley.pdf.

Hierarchy of Settlements Assessment

The second estimate you mention for 3,195, I believe is from the Hierarchy of Settlements Assessment on page 27 (https://www.shropshire.gov.uk/media/7631/hierarchy-of-settlements-assessment.pdf). This population estimate uses the Highley Local Plan Development Boundary (https://shropshire.gov.uk/media/7619/s9-highley.pdf). This population estimate has been produced using the population figure from the 2011 Census for Highley BUA (3,133) and an estimation of population growth generated from planning completions data from April 1st 2011 to March 31st 2016. The Highley BUA boundary was judged to be the best fit to the development plan boundary.

Judged to be the best fit?

Exactly my point. Statistics are (to most of us anyway) by definition objective, so what is so objective about someone’s judgement set against someone else’s judgement?

The email goes on to say…

Other sources of population estimates

You may also see mid-year population estimates published by ONS available at local authority level, electoral wards, output areas (statistical geography created by ONS), nationally and regionally. These estimates are produced by aging on the population each year since the 2011 Census using births, deaths and migration data. The most recent estimates for local authorities are for mid-2018 and for smaller geographies mid-2017. The 2017 mid-year figures estimate there are 3,716 people resident in Highley ward (and Highley parish as they share a boundary.) For further information please follow this link – https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/datasets/populationestimatesforukenglandandwalesscotlandandnorthernireland. These estimates are useful for service planning, as they are available by gender / single years of age and can be aggregated to fit other geographic areas. These have been used to estimate the population of the smaller villages and hamlets in Shropshire where no Census data is available.

Summary

The benefit of the 3,195 estimate is that it is more up-to-date than the Census and is informed by actual dwelling completions.

Have they not read the paragraph that precedes this?

I hope this is of help. Please let me know if you require further information.

Kind regards

Helen

Planning and Demographic Specialist Performance, Policy and Intelligence Team, Workforce and Transformation Directorate, Shropshire Council, Shirehall, Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury, SY2 6ND

It was lovely of her to take so much time and effort to explain, even if it did miss the whole point of my asking how the planning department’s take on Highley’s population could be justified, given that what THEY were treating as Highley’s hinterland (the land around a settlement which relies on the services provided by that settlement) is wholly dependent on and identifies with Highley, in other words their place of residence and lifestyle activities identifying themselves as inhabitants of Highley, a perception confirmed by their appearance on the Electoral Register for Highley, their appearance establishing a presence only a planner with their own agenda would even attempt to deny.

A look at the maps that accompanied that reply will explain.

Highley is Highley, it is what it says on the tin. I am the elected Member for the Highley Electoral Division of Shropshire Council, I am responsible for the area bounded by the blue border of ‘Highley Electoral Ward’, it’s a distinction peculiar to Highley. Highley Parish is the area bordered by that blue Parish boundary, Highley Parish Council (of which I’m also a member) is responsible for the area within the ‘Highley Parish’ boundary.

So what is Shropshire Council planning department’s problem?

Planning applications are sent for review by me as the Local Member and by Highley Parish Council as the administrative authority of the Highley civil parish.

So again, what is Shropshire Council planning department’s problem?

Working to Shropshire Council planning department’s master plan, between the Census Built-Up-Area Boundary – adopted as the basis for their population figure – and the Highley Parish Boundary, live 400 people who travel to shop, school, work and leisure, in fact – according to Shropshire Council planning department – to anywhere except within the Census Built-Up-Area Boundary, they therefore, allegedly, have no impact on the area within that Census Built-Up-Area Boundary.

Really?

To all intents and purposes, they are 400 people who don’t exist and have absolutely no impact – however slight – on the area that Shropshire Council considers to be the only area worthy of consideration, on which basis it is therefore wrong of me to assume that they have any physical or economic impact within the confines of the Built-Up-Area Boundary.

Still with me? Just?

Now you know how I feel when I look at the potential that Shropshire Council planning department’s interpretation of census figures will have on Highley. The following map shows that potential in the form of sites that have a very realistic chance of being adopted by Shropshire Council as potential areas of development to meet its future housing obligations.

For the benefit of anyone who doubts the devastating impact such a scenario presents for the future of the village, I have included the potential housing density (as computed by Shropshire Council) of each site as given in the site descriptions that follow this map.

HNN010 Land to the south of Redstone Drive, Highley 81

HNN013 Land at Woodhill Farm, Highley 16

HNN014 East of Bridgnorth Road, Highley 22

HNN015 West of Woodhill Road, Highley 28

HNN016 Land South of Oak Street, Highley 120

(Originally comprising: 70 dwellings and 50 extra-care apartments)

(Which we now know will have the above plus the recently

approved planning application for 20 affordable houses) 20

HNN017 Land North East of Hazelwells Road, Highley 28

HNN019 The Stables Bridgnorth Road, Highley 66

TOTAL: 381

Oh, and before I go, just to note that despite everything the local community has said…

I rest my case.

As they say in Yorkshire: ‘Think on’.

#74: BOLT THAT STABLE DOOR, QUICK.

 

Shropshire Council planners have at last started the process of reviewing the authority’s Statement of Community Involvement (SCI), the document that sets out how the council’s planning department engages with local communities in a spirit of “community engagement” that is supposed to lay the foundations of what they persist in calling a ‘plan led system’.

It is in fact anything but! Well, it sort of is, but it’s THEIR plan.

If any proof were needed, the fact that Shropshire Council planning department have announced the START of consultation at the END of the extended Local Plan Review shows what our planners think of the SCI.

What they should have done was review the SCI through consultation and then restarted the consultation on the Local Plan Review. It’s not as if they didn’t know the SCI review was way overdue because enough of us were constantly reminding them!

Sent: 26 June 2019 12:25
To: Ian Kilby
Subject: SCI review

Good day Ian,

Are there any plans to review SC’s Statement of Community Involvement, the one adopted in 2011, seven years ago?

Amendment of regulation 10A

4. After regulation 10 (local plans and supplementary planning documents: additional matters to which regard is to be had) insert—

Review of local development documents

10A.—(1) A local planning authority must review a local development document within the following time periods—

(a)in respect of a local plan, the review must be completed every five years, starting from the date of adoption of the local plan, in accordance with section 23 of the Act (adoption of local development documents);

(b) in respect of a statement of community involvement, the review must be completed every five years, starting from the date of adoption of the statement of community involvement, in accordance with section 23 of the Act.”.

By way of answer I got…

From: Ian Kilby
Sent: 26 June 2019 13:18
To: Dave Tremellen
Cc: Adrian Cooper
Subject: RE: SCI review

Dave,

I think this is something we need to look at thank you for bringing it to my attention – I will review with Adrian on his return from leave.

Ian

Ian Kilby

Planning Services Manager

And I wasn’t alone in my concerns because someone else subsequently took up the matter of the SCI review with another principal planner (the same ‘Adrian’ referred to above), though in relation to a different matter

Sent: 22 July 2019 11:36
To: Adrian Cooper
Subject: Re: Local Plan Review

I attended the scrutiny committee last Thursday and [s]omeone at that meeting pointed out to me that the Council’s Statement of Community Involvement, under a 2017 amendment to the T&CPA, is required to be reviewed every 5 years and hasn’t been. Is this right please?

Which got…

With regard to the SCI, you are correct that the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 now require that a review of the SCI must be completed every five years, starting from the date of its adoption. In Shropshire’s case, the SCI was adopted in 2011 but was refreshed with minor amendments in 2014 (not taken to members for endorsement).

There is no question that the SCI is therefore due a review and work on this has already started, although progress to date has been frustrated by the demands of other work. I will let you know when we have an agreed timetable for the review process.

Kind Regards

Adrian Cooper MA (Hons) MSc MSc MRTPI

Planning Policy & Strategy Manager, Economic Growth

Shropshire Council, Shirehall, Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury SY2 6ND

Which obviously reminded Ian Kilby that I had still to be replied to because…

From: Ian Kilby
Sent: 30 July 2019 16:51
To: Dave Tremellen
Cc: Adrian Cooper
Subject: RE: SCI review

Dave,

We are looking at it now

Ian

Well, it was an answer of sorts, even if it did beg the question as to why it’s taken them so long to get on with the review of a document that had, by the time of those exchanges, started to curl at its edges.

Best not to ask, I suppose. But some of us have been dying to ask the question about why the senior planning officers of Shropshire Council – and especially the portfolio holder who has responsibility for oversight of that department – don’t seem to take any notice of stuff they’ve produced at great expense, both in terms of money and time, “stuff” like “The Big Conversation”, just one of a long list of council initiatives that have subsequently sunk into obscurity.

There’s a whole shopping list of stuff just left sitting on shelves in a cupboard somewhere that Shropshire Council planning officers appear to be ignorant of, amongst others that rarely get a mention, the ‘Engagement Toolkit’ (2016) is worth a read:


https://shropshire.gov.uk/media/4857/community-engagement-toolkit.pdf


Likewise the ‘Rural Toolkit’, which is set out in the Core Strategy (para 4.66)…

4.66 Shropshire Council is adopting a “bottom up” approach, whereby it works with communities at the parish and village level in together undertaking an intelligent analysis of the nature of their local community and how their village functions, and how it can be improved. This is done through an interactive toolkit that starts with the Parish Plan or Village or Town Design Statement where available; secondly adds statistics compiled by Shropshire Council, such as Census data, to provide a quantitative basis for discussion; and thirdly engages with the local community in a Community Testing Event to arrive at an agreed view of how the community regards its current sustainability. This methodology will provide quality evidence to help the planning authority make robust decisions on the designation of Community Hubs and Community Clusters. Undertaking the assessment does not commit a community to seek Community Hub or Community Cluster status. The approach is detailed further in the SAMDev DPD.

Hmmm. And that was for public consumption? No wonder it got quietly dropped.

Like much else it just paid lip-service to ‘bottom up engagement’.

And if you’re really up for it (might as well while you’re at it) a document that informs the wider argument for community engagement:

Engagement and the equality duty: A guide for public authorities England (and non-devolved public authorities in Scotland and Wales)’

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/ehrc_psed_engagement_web.pdf

OK, enough for now. Hopefully you’ll have started to get the point, which is simply that with so much ‘guidance’ out there, the generally accepted understanding of what’s meant by the word “consultation” should be clearly understood by even the dimmest of planning officers.

But of course, planning officers aren’t dim. By any measure they are clever enough to play semantic games with anyone, the rules of the game having been passed down through the ranks as part of their professional development.

Any one of those documents you will find cited by Shropshire Council to give legitimacy to their claim to be a local authority responsive to the concerns of its communities. Reading those documents and seeing how they are reflected in reality, however, in reality they do anything but!

Were it otherwise I’d be the happiest bunny around, but as it is the major issue is Shropshire Council planning department’s refusal to accept that the word “consultation” means what it says on the tin. Their choosing to maintain a permanent state of denial about engagement meaning an exchange of possibly opposing views until a negotiated agreement satisfying the needs of both sides is achieved, doesn’t redefine the word even when it’s accompanied by the planner’s death stare, finely honed in the course of their professional training and especially when dealing with those opposing their plans.

When it came out, much was made of The Big Conversation’, its title said it all; as a statement of intent it takes some beating and opens by saying…

Shropshire Council recognises the need for customers, stakeholders and businesses to have greater opportunities and involvement in the democratic process and to provide an environment that supports and encourages social responsibility and action. Overall, we plan to develop a ‘together we can’ attitude, supporting collective social action, with our Councillors as active facilitators and enablers, best placed to listen to and advocate on behalf of those harder to reach in their communities. Engagement is broader and deeper than traditional consultation [my emphasis]. It’s about how we communicate with, involve, listen to, respond to and understand local people and stakeholders. How we help people by developing ongoing relationships with them to become active citizens who can discuss and influence the things that matter most to them.

You know, I get fed up with criticising Shropshire Council and at one time thought I’d sorted out my differences with its planning department, but changes in both personnel and attitudes have combined with changes in national legislation to systematically destroy whatever kindly thoughts had started to creep through since I passed a note to Ian Kilby that said: “I’ll try to be kinder”.

Ian was getting a fair bit of criticism from one of the committees I was a member of, and not from me I’ll point out, which in itself is a significant point worth noting because it shows I’m not alone, just the most vocal. It was about the slowness of the planning department to get back with answers to queries from councillors and Ian Kilby was explaining how difficult it was to recruit new planners, so many experienced ones having taken the opportunity to get out when the chance of voluntary redundancy was offered by a cash-strapped council. He had a point and that’s when I passed him the note – so heartfelt was his pleading.

And I have been patient or was until about five years ago when certain events made me realise that assurances I’d taken on trust later proved to be not just empty but deliberately misleading to shut me up until it was too late to do anything.

I suppose that reversion to character by the planners started in earnest when serious concerns about routing construction traffic through Victorian terraced housing, cars parked both sides of the narrow street, could have been overcome by agreeing a different route for the access to that new estate, a suggestion which was deferred by the principal planning officer “until such reserved matters can be considered”. Except that the application as it stood was subsequently waved through on the nod. No appeal because according to that principal planning officer a ‘consultation’ of sorts had happened. (You can read what you like into the fact that the planned estate was being developed by the council-owned housing company, Shropshire Towns & Rural Housing.)

To add insult to the injury of legitimate concerns being ignored, during that planning process my positive response – in the spirit of engaging in the process – to two requests for site meetings from one of the planning officers involved were completely ignored, no meetings took place despite my chasing them up. The formal complaint about that officer’s behaviour was subsequently dismissed as unreasonable on the grounds that she was overwhelmed with work.

There are increasing examples of the failure in community engagement in the consultation process coming to light as a result of the increasing reliance on electronic communication. It is a major weakness (although arguably an unintended consequence) that adds strength to Shropshire Council’s determination to remove a bothersome public from its affairs.

Put simply, if someone doesn’t have the technology they don’t have the information they need to make a judgement on whatever is out for “consultation”, which is why public meetings are important, and is why the current reliance on virtual ‘meetings’ simply doesn’t acknowledge the opportunity such a remote medium offers to a council already adept at dodging effective scrutiny.


The draft SCI at para 3.8 (Communicating Effectively) touches on this by mentioning lack of ‘Access, Skills, and Motivation’ but the only other method they mention has a touch of the disingenuous about it, printed material.

OK, except that in practice, since becoming a “paperless electronic local authority”, printed copies of reports can only be had by asking for them and establishing ‘need’, but not everyone knows to ask, let alone who to ask.

Final question. Is there such a thing as a virtuous vicious circle?

 

#73: On coffins and premature political deaths.

Confirmation, if confirmation of what I’ve been predicting for the past few years is needed then the final nail in the lid of Shirehall’s coffin is here…

https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/local-hubs/shrewsbury/2020/08/26/council-bids-to-block-listing-of-shirehall/

When I read that I immediately circulated an email to all councillors asking…

Would anyone care to comment on this?

Shropshire Council has applied for a Certificate of Immunity to prevent the Shirehall being listed, in an attempt to open the way for sale and demolition. If you wish to object write to Rachel.Williams@HistoricEngland.org.uk

The deadline for consultation is 28 August, 2020.”

Who, outside of Cabinet, knew of this?

And if true, would anyone care to explain why the “new way of working” has become so Presidential that it precludes ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES outside the Cabinet from being consulted prior to such a move?

Ironically, one of the criticisms of Keith Barrow as Council Leader (2009 – 2015) was that he had a bullying style of management, although that was an element of Keith’s regime that I personally never experienced, once Keith had stepped down from council I had such stories coming at me from all directions.

Many of the councillors who related their unhappy experiences under Keith in 2015 are the same councillors who, unaware of the irony, are quietly supporting an equally unaccountable Executive under Peter Nutting.

Following Peter Nutting’s actions since his takeover of the council in 2017, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of forethought. Statements of intent have undoubtedly been made, but without consideration of the implications for Shropshire people of council staff having to work from under-resourced homes, which is serious enough in itself, but the implications for town and parish councils will be far-reaching and profound, given the hinted-at extra responsibilities likely to be piled onto their agendas that will seriously affect their ability to deliver the services that Shropshire people expect for their council tax, because what Peter Nutting and his service directors don’t say is that town and parish councils will be told what to do and expected not only to get on with it but pay for it.

What’s happening now is, in essence, a complete betrayal of every principle of representative democracy, with consequences the Executive cannot claim were unintended, well, not without sounding like someone who interprets the sinking of the Titanic as an excellent opportunity to learn how to swim!

When Nasser was President of Egypt he once told the local Head of the CIA Egyptian office:

The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves that make us wonder that there may be something that we are missing.”

That’s exactly how I find myself reacting to Peter Nutting’s initiatives.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to accept at face value what’s been done since he took over in 2017, I have honestly tried, even putting ‘The New Saints’ £80,000 Legacy Grant case behind me, filing it under ‘Historical Cock Up’ together with the Code of Conduct Complaint that I made against Peter Nutting over the questionable way that he, together with ex-Chief Executive Clive Wright, handled that sorry episode.

[Whilst bringing Peter Nutting to some kind of justice for his misleading statement about what he was doing about the TNS loan/grant between June 2017 and January 2018, when my Code of Conduct Complaint led to the case being passed to the council’s Audit Department for what was – credit where it’s due – a thorough investigation, that Code of Conduct Complaint had as much to do with exposing the fallacy of justice ever being done by a Standards Sub-Committee whose outcomes are wholly predetermined by the way cases are presented to it by the council’s monitoring officer, Claire Porter. It should have been prima facie given that Peter Nutting was condemned by his own words in the MP3 recording of his interview with Joanne Gallacher of BBC Radio Shropshire that I submitted in evidence, and yet the Standards Sub Committee ruled that there was no case to answer!]

Peter Nutting’s talent, honed over the many years he’s been in local government, is his ability to pull off an administrative sleight of hand in a way that, by the time anyone realises what he’s actually done, it’s too late to do much about it. If that is genuinely his intention at the outset then his doubters have got it wrong and the man is a manipulative genius.

But I doubt that explains the deafening silence from members of the ruling Conservative group about the proposed demolition of Shirehall and the dispersal of staff and services either to their homes or to satellite offices, with all that means for the effective operation of representative democracy in Shropshire, because I know there are Conservative councillors who don’t agree either with what’s being proposed or the way that Peter Nutting’s Cabinet is going about it.

There are a lot of good men and women in the old Shirehall Conservative Party and despite having had to sign away their souls to be accepted as an official Conservative candidate in local elections, a handful were, back in the day, prepared to openly question, if not openly challenge, some of their Group Leader’s pronouncements, amongst whom, ironically, you could at one time have counted Peter Nutting.

Back in June 2016, I was at the EU Referendum count in Shrewsbury and at around two o’clock in the morning I spotted Peter Nutting standing alone against the back wall of the hall.

Only a matter of days before, as reported in the Shropshire Star…

It is understood the disagreement centred around an aborted challenge from a group of councillors to Councillor Pate’s leadership. Councillor Nutting, who would not be drawn on the reasons behind his dismissal, said: “We had a disagreement and I was removed from my position.”

In fact, he told me, he’d been kicked off the Cabinet by Malcolm Pate for ill-judged comments he’d made at a North Shropshire Constituency drinks party. As he was amongst “friends” his guard was down.

He’d been too trusting of the company he was in and the following morning he was called into the Leader’s office and summarily dismissed to the back benches.

But, and there’s always a ‘but’ in politics…

Following the local elections on May 4th 2017, Malcolm Pate got an object lesson in the error of counting chickens before they’re all hatched when, on the Monday preceding full council on May 18th, Peter Nutting replaced Malcolm Pate as Leader of their party.

(On the morning of that fateful meeting I’d been told to expect “a few surprises”. When I asked that gleeful Conservative friend what he meant by that he said: “Malcolm has got his sums wrong”. I didn’t have long to wait to find out what he’d meant.)

But all that was yet to come when I saw Peter Nutting standing against that back wall of the counting hall. Feeling genuinely sorry for him I went across and said: “Standing here like Billy No Mates, Peter, I’ll talk to you even if no one else will.”

Now that is normally taken as a joke heavy in irony by most people and allowed to pass as such, but Peter took me at my word and within minutes I was as depressed as he looked.

What came out was pretty much the statement of intent that has resulted in everything he’s done since he took over in 2017, summed up as “get rid of the dead wood and make the council more businesslike”… “sell off assets to invest for growth” (municipal golf courses were mentioned)… “use reserves to reduce the budget deficit”… ad inf.

You get the idea. All conventional classical liberal economics stuff. But selling off Shirehall wasn’t in there.

One thing that did surprise me was his assessment of the calibre of Malcolm Pate’s Cabinet: “Most of them are there because without the special allowances they’d be broke”.

And there was I thinking that all Tories are rich. I made my excuses and left.

The memory of that otherwise insignificant incident has never left me because in politics it is moments like that which, even in a relative backwater like Shropshire, shape history.

And like a bad Indian take-away, history is indeed proving its tendency to repeat on you, going a fair way to explaining the current silence of the Party lambs, the collective memory of what happened to Malcolm when he crossed Pete the Avenger informing constituency members (especially North Shropshire members) that you cross Peter Nutting at your peril.

But I was still VERY surprised to be told that there were rumours (the status of the source of that rumour giving it considerable weight) of the de-selection for the 2021 local elections of three senior Conservative councillors who I would have considered so well rooted in the Party’s establishment, in fact one of them with a right-wing pedigree quintessentially Establishment enough to render them untouchable, that to even consider de-selecting them simply “wasn’t on”.

Had I been the least bit inclined to scepticism, then the prospective candidate lined up to replace Keith Roberts was of such impeccable national significance within the Conservative Party machine to convince me that the North Shropshire constituency was taking what it saw as the necessary steps to strengthen its presence at Shirehall – or at whatever they replace it with!

The other two are (so far) Karen Calder, and someone of such sound credentials that her going will have a significant impact way beyond Shropshire Council’s remit, Ann Hartley, Chair of Shropshire Council!

When I heard that I thought that not only the North Shropshire Tories had gone mad but the whole bloody world. Keith Roberts has presence enough, but Karen and Ann are, by any measure, big hitters and therefore, as warning shots across the bows of the timorous, they are deafening.

Who, in their right mind and with an eye to the May 2021 local elections (Covid permitting), is going to challenge Peter Nutting now? If those three are for the chop then no one is safe.

At which point, perhaps an explanation to those not in the know of what goes on behind constituency doors in preparation for an election will help. It involves the selling of souls.

Way back in 2015, following Keith Barrow’s standing down, I was approached by two Conservative friends and actually thanked for pushing ahead with the Code of Conduct Complaint that led to his going. It was, they explained “long overdue”. Bemused, I asked: “If that’s the case, where have you guys been for the last five years?”

Feeling guilty for putting them on the spot, I asked whether the reason so many of their fellow councillors had remained quiet had to do with the piece of paper all Conservative candidates have to sign, pledging unquestioning support for their political group at Shirehall, their Leader at Shirehall and, if their standing MP was of the Party, committing always to work to keep them in place. Failing in any of those commitments, the Party reserved the right to claim back all the expense of getting them elected. Both my friends disputed that was the case. I assured them that as the official candidate for the Highley division of Ludlow Constituency Association in 2013 I had indeed been presented with that ‘contract’, in fact it was the reason I opted out – to stand as an Independent – because I wasn’t prepared to toe the national Party’s line and stop thinking for myself.

They still insisted that they had signed no such document and said they’d settle the matter by consulting with the resident Party apparatchik at Shirehall, Dean Carrol, a personable young man who had cleverly got his girlfriend to stand for the Green Party in 2013 in order to split the opposition in what was known to be a closely-contested electoral division.

The next day I wrote (and this is the text of the email sent)…

Morning ***.

I was genuinely surprised when you said that no party pressure was applied by Conservative constituency offices because the expectation of conforming was equal to my concerns over the NPPF* (especially its impact on those of us campaigning against wind farms) in deciding me against standing as the official Conservative candidate. When Philip Dunne and Keith Barrow phoned me after I’d told Philip that I was withdrawing, it was one of the things I mentioned, KB actually reassured me that no party whip was applied at Shirehall although he certainly didn’t insist that one didn’t exist, just that it wasn’t applied.

The “expectations” were set out in the form I signed accepting the ‘nomination’ and there is evidence that some constituencies apply it, even if your branch doesn’t. Remember the Mark Reckless [My note: he defected from the Tories to UKIP in 2014] case? When he defected to UKIP his local constituency office demanded he repay all his election costs.

It’s why I have always assumed that silent acceptance of Keith Barrow’s dictats by members of the Ruling Group had to do with what it would cost them if they opposed.

* NPPF = National Planning Policy Framework

In reply I got an email saying that when they had checked with Dean Carrol he told them that they had indeed signed such a document but that it was so long ago they’d obviously forgotten it.

A good job some of us have not only a reasonably good memory but a good filing system.

Oh, and some on-the-ball LDRS (Local Democracy Reporters), like Keri Trigg, who recently Tweeted this revelation…

WHIP TWEET 2 copy

Sorry that’s so difficult to read but it’s a screen-shot of a leaked memo, circulated to all Conservative Members before the Full Council on Thursday 24 September, instructing them on how to vote in the debate on the how, why, and when of implementing 20 mph safety zones around Shropshire schools. The issue here isn’t so much how Tory Members were being “advised” to vote (actually in favour of a REDUCTION in the time to implement) but the fact that it proves the existence of the Party Whip they always deny exists.

So where were we?

Well, still not answered is why, in the eyes of what appears to be all Conservative councillors, Shirehall has gone from being a building that Peter Nutting thought worthy of spending £380,000 on consultants to support his contention that it was worth saving to, and I quote the recent Tweet from one of Peter Nutting’s Cabinet: “… an energy eating awful architectural dinosaur, not to mention a fire hazard”.

So apart from Covid-19, what’s happened since those earlier meetings in the Wenlock Room at Shirehall, in which the £380,000 consultant’s report was presented, to cause such a rapid structural deterioration? Because I don’t recall any Conservative member present at that earlier meeting expressing ANY opinion, pro or con. In fact the only senior Tory I remember saying anything was Claire Wild, who came up to me immediately after the presentation to say that there was a better way to improve Shirehall than the extravagant plans drawn up by the consultants. She was quite upset, but then as an experienced property developer she was better qualified to question the plans and express an opinion than most of those present, in fact to console her I asked her if she needed a hug. (Most inappropriate, but then exceptional circumstances demand an exceptional reaction.)

And casting my mind back to that meeting, I remember how instructive it had been in understanding how certain minds work at Shirehall. When Keith Barrow had scheduled Shirehall for sale he was supported 100% not only by his Cabinet and Conservative colleagues, but by the same Chief Executive, Clive Wright, who had miraculously become a very vocal supporter of the £380,000-worth of proposals so enthusiastically promoted by Peter Nutting.

Come the change of administration when Keith stood down from the council, opening the way for Malcolm Pate, the plans to demolish Shirehall were quietly binned and Clive Wright switched sides overnight. The retention of Shirehall was suddenly a bloody good idea, thus proving that holding the office of Chief Executive is no proof of infallibility and that, moreover, it’s a distinct advantage to believe that obstacles can be overcome simply by being overlooked.

Shropshire Council has, over the years, shown a marked propensity not to learn either from its own mistakes or those of others.

Shirehall has some pretty clever people working in it, whether as officers or councillors, so when they do err they are better able to construct arguments to justify their reasoning, insofar as they choose to engage with a differing opinion, that is. And when they do deign to engage it’s only because their sensitivities have been aroused when their “professionalism” is challenged (planners are particularly prone to this trait), which makes them even more dogmatic in their views, their ‘bias blind spot’ meaning they are less able to acknowledge, let alone admit to, holes in their logic, the Local Plan Review being a case in point.

Basically, it’s about intelligent people making incredibly stupid decisions because they’re not thinking, they’re just rearranging their prejudices, which for politicians means along Party lines.

For senior officers, it will be along lines of self-preservation, although that didn’t help Clive Wright avoid an untimely demise. In the absence of any convincing official reason for his going, I’m tempted to wonder if he’d argued with Peter Nutting that yet another change of heart over Shirehall’s future was a change of heart too far.

It’s professional scepticism that stops an organisation driving itself off a cliff, but all the signs are that our Executive is blissfully committed to the functional stupidity of demanding unquestioning corporate loyalty where even the hint of criticism is seen as a betrayal punishable by death.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

Friday 9th October 2020

An Open Letter to Shropshire Councillors.

Dear Councillor,

The ‘SOS Save our Shirehall’ group would like to flag five serious concerns over Shropshire Council’s rushed-under-lockdown, but far reaching, decision to dispose of our County Shirehall:

1. Loss of a significant and central building. To symbolise the prestige of our historic County and be a focus for civic pride. Is Shropshire to be the only county in England without a County Hall?

2. Impact on services. With staff and departments reduced and dispersed county-wide and more home-working, direct access to services and our local government will be badly hit. Pop-ups are here today, gone tomorrow and are no substitute for proper access. Is this good enough?

3. Climate Emergency. The Royal Institute of British Architects has stated in its ‘Climate Challenge 2030’ report that it is highly irresponsible to demolish perfectly good and re-furbishable large buildings. Re-using and adapting what exists is acknowledged best practice to reduce carbon emissions and is less wasteful. Is the Council taking its adopted Climate Emergency seriously?

4. Staff. Measures required by a crisis have been used to serve an argument of obsolescence for the building, but why would this be good for permanent working with the loss of spontaneous cooperation with colleagues and the social and creative benefits that are fundamental to working life and human well-being. With many already suffering from isolation under lock-down, staff are being asked to embrace even more solitary home-working and uncertainty over their future. Are the staff being considered, particularly when Shirehall offers a large and adaptable space which could serve safe, socially distanced working so well?

5. Democracy. We are concerned that these above considerations have not been adequately discussed and decisions already arrived at or, is lock-down an opportunity to avoid open and transparent government and full discussion of such an important change for the County?

Additionally, we ask if you share our worry that the apparent lack of consultation, transparency and features of due process may risk reputational damage to the Council?

In the interests of all those affected, and the people of Shropshire, we ask for your response to these questions.

If you would like a copy of ‘Shropshire’s Shirehall – a Social and Architectural Appreciation’ please let us know.

Yours sincerely,

Martina Chamberlain

07913 439062

chamberlain.martina@gmail.com

Sally Stote

01743 362126

sallystote0@gmail.com

SOS Save our Shirehall: sos.saveourshirehall@gmail.com

 

BUT THE UNCHALLENGEABLES HAVE WON.

The headstone on Representative Democracy’s grave will consist of pieces of cement scattered around Shropshire following…

https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/local-hubs/shrewsbury/2020/10/13/bid-to-protect-shirehall-set-to-be-rejected/