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Borough Babes: OK ?

Borough Babes: OK?There was unusual discord at Tuesday's meeting of the St Anne's on the Sea Town Council. Chairman Barbara Mackenzie usually goes out of her way to find the middle ground and harmony when there is disagreement, but this time she was caught on the hop by a member of the public.

The public participation sessions are one of the good features of Town Council meetings. Fifteen minutes is set aside for issues to be raised orally by any St Anne's elector. All sorts of things get raised, but we don't think anyone was expecting what happened when (former Town Councillor) David Meldrum rose to speak.

Somewhere between television's Captains Mainwaring and Birdseye, with a 'suffering of fools' threshold slightly less than his near-sounding namesake Victor Meldrew, he is an interesting, avuncular, octogenarian with a lifetime's experience of local authority working, and a sharp intellect

He has a vocabulary that is the envy of everyone else we know. Earlier this year, a MENSA test placed him in the top 2% of UK residents. He is the product of an education system from the days when education was run properly and, without any intent or effort on his part, his innate ability shames many that are much younger.

Whilst you may not always agree with him, he is always worth listening to.

But on Tuesday, his vocabulary and ability were turned sharply on two sitting St Anne's Town Councillors (Cllr Christine Akeroyd and Cllr Angela Jacques) who are also Fylde Borough Councillors.

The target of his concern was the way they had voted on plans to close the St Anne's Swimming Pool.

Mr Meldrum recalled at the previous Town Council meeting, he had seen all Councillors voting in favour of a letter being sent to FBC opposing the planned closure of the swimming pool. However he had seen the same two Councillors vote in favour of closing St Anne's Pool at the Borough Council meeting shortly afterwards.

He said "It is with some sadness that I observed that two of the three Councillors who sit on both this and the Borough Council did not merely abstain from the vote to close the swimming pool but actively supported the motion put forward by the Cabinet."

In a calm and measured manner, he went on to say:

"I appreciate that Councillors could wear two hats on this issue but in view of the strongly, I might say violently, expressed opinions of a large, mainly St Anne's, body of residents I was dismayed by this seemingly callous disregard of the wishes of their electorate and the failure to represent the publicly expressed views.

I realize that the two Councillors found themselves between the rock and the hard place but I would suppose that they might have abstained from the votes (including those which were concerned with opposition amendments), instead of which they voted against their own support of the resolution submitted by this Council."

By this time, you could feel the tension in the meeting rising, and it must have made uncomfortable listening for Councillors Akeroyd and Jacques, who sat eyes fixed straight ahead whilst he spoke.

It wasn't about to get better for them.

Mr Meldrum continued:

"This, in my opinion, leaves them with only one honourable course - to resign their seats on this Council and make way for representation by candidates more deeply committed to the interests of the electorate of St Leonard's and Kilnhouse wards. I sincerely regret that I shall not confidently expect them to do this."

When he finished and sat down there was one of those silences that people describe as 'pregnant.' - It was heavy with expectation.

It was eventually broken when Cllr Mrs Akeroyd spoke to explain she would have liked to keep the pool open, but when they were considering the budget at the Borough Council there was no way the money to keep it open could be found. Councillor Mrs Jacques echoed the sentiment.

As our readers know, we take issue with that position. It was not a shortage of money, it was a matter of what the available resources were spent on. It wasn't a 'budget shortfall' (that had already been corrected by more or less emptying the Council's Special and Earmarked Reserves). It was a question of spending priority.

At this point in the proceedings, Councillor Jill Sumner said, quietly - "But you did vote to close it didn't you?" To which came the reply, "Yes but we can get almost all the schools in Kirkham Baths except two" to which Cllr Mrs Sumner responded "But what about the extra cost of transporting all the children, and the time it will take to get them there? They'll have no time left for learning to swim."

Cllr Jacques later challenged Cllr Mrs Sumner saying she hoped everyone who went on the march that Saturday had gone into the pool afterwards. She asked Cllr Mrs Sumner point blank "Did you go in the pool on Saturday?" Mrs Sumner said "No! I don't go in on Saturdays, the pool is too busy. I go in on a weekday, every week"

There was evident embarrassment on the part of these two ladies who voted to oppose the closure at the Town Council then voted for its closure at the Borough Council, and a clear division emerged on this issue with the other three Parish Councillors (Jill Sumner, Barbara Mackenzie, and Tony Ford) who were present at the meeting.

Vice Chairman Cllr Tony Ford proposed a further resolution that the Town Council should formally write to the Borough Council to deplore the decision to close of the Pool. This was seconded by Chairman Barbara Mackenzie, and passed on the vote.

The two ladies, who had previously voted two ways, abstained on this vote.

Ho, Hum.

Dated:  21 March 2008


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