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countering the spin and providing the balance


Save St Annes

Save St AnnesWe promised to let our readers know what went on at the Public Meeting held at the YMCA. It was one of the more memorable meetings we have attended in recent times, and described to counterbalance by one participant who seemed to have enjoyed himself as - "The best public meeting I have been to in the last 50 years."

It had its origins in the awful Council meeting of 3 March (see Travesty of Democracy) where so many people were angered.

Whilst the future of swimming pools in Fylde occupied most of that Council meeting on 3 March, the real and underlying problem was actually the way the present administration makes its decisions.

It was quite clear at that 3 March Council meeting that John Coombes' corrosive persona has completely ruined any possibility of harmonious or collaborative working with what he calls 'opposition' councillors. (As though there were an opposing political party, when in fact there are - as there should be - a collection of individuals acting according to their consciences).

The pubic anger at his behaviour, and at the behaviour of his colleagues, with their tactical voting and 'Blue Peter' decisions (here's one I made earlier) moved people in the public gallery to shout him down as he tried to speak. That's not Fylde's way of doing things. Nor is it the way people in Fylde behave.

But you also can't run a borough with that sort of mandate, and whilst you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, the day of reckoning arrived on 3 March. He has tried to fool too many people, too often.

After that meeting, we were party to some of the phone calls and discussions that took place between people who had been there. This culminated in a selection of about 20 people - representing a wide cross section of business, community and environmental groups in St Anne's and the wider Fylde - seeking a meeting with members of the St Anne's on the Sea Town Council to express their concerns for the future of the town.

It seemed they had given up on the Borough Council.

At that meeting, several Town (and a couple of Borough) Councillors were visibly shocked as speaker after speaker criticised the direction in which the town was being driven, attacked individual Borough Councillors for failing to listen to the community, and articulated their lack of confidence in Fylde Borough Council's decision making process.

The meeting closed with a request to the Town Council to hold a public meeting to see whether the concerns expressed to them by group representatives were shared by the wider community.

The next meeting of St Anne's Town Council considered and broadly approved that request, but rather than hold the meeting themselves, they asked the representatives of the various groups to undertake the organising.

The resulting meetings of representatives undertook the planning of the public meeting, but that process also germinated the idea of an umbrella organisation for local groups with a civic focus, and the former Fylde Civic Awareness Group - who organised local government seminars for the public before the last election - has stepped into that role.

In planning the public meeting, we understand the aims were: to meet the needs of the Town Council, allowing it to hear a wider spectrum of public opinion; to raise the profile of issues of particular concerns to participating groups; and to allow the public - who are not allowed to speak at Council meetings, to have as much to say about matters of concern to them as they wished to have.

And so the meeting took place at the YMCA. Extra chairs had to be put out as the room filled up, and probably over 200 local residents settled down to express their concerns.

And didn't they just.

It seemed every other speaker wanted to criticise the way Fylde Council is making its decisions. In particular, the Cabinet system came in for a great deal of stick.

Other hot topics were the swimming pool closure, Heeley Road hostel, developments generally, including Kensington's plans, the airport expansion, Town Hall developments and the asset sales that are due to fund them, but it seemed like three to one that people were really mostly angry about the way they are being ignored by the present administration.

One quote that seemed to sum up the root of the problem was "The elitist cabinet need to be removed for the benefit of council harmony and community improvement."

There was a break around 8.30 when people were asked to complete questionnaires showing whether they agreed or disagreed with a number of statements contributed by the several organising groups and others.

The meeting then resumed for the final session with the Chairman asking for ideas and suggestions from those present as to how they would make things better. Despite his best endeavours, he struggled to get away from complaints about the Borough Council and in particular the Cabinet system

At about 9.30, when the requests to speak were thinning, a chap said he had heard the views and concerns of many people there that evening, and their disquiet at some of the decisions which had been - and were still being - made. He complained that Councillors in the majority party were obeying the cabinet which required unswerving obedience.

He went on to say that many matters had caused concern and had been aired at the meeting, but they were really only symptoms of the underlying malaise, namely what he called the pernicious governance incorporated in the cabinet.

He continued "I am therefore putting forward a RESOLUTION which in my belief would rectify many of the ills being aired tonight.....

This meeting, representing many hundreds of Borough residents of all parties, interests, creeds and beliefs hereby declares that it has NO CONFIDENCE in the present cabinet of Fylde Borough Council and

(1), calls for greater consideration to be given to public opinion and the wishes of the people through a more representative governance, with the abandonment of any threat of penalties which might be imposed for voting according to conscience, enabling a return to democratic decision-making by a majority of Councillors in full Council and,

(2), calls on all Parish and Town Councils in the Fylde Borough to confirm and endorse this resolution.

There was widespread applause for this suggestion as he sat down. It was seconded by the chap who is organising the Parish Poll for the swimming pool, and on a show of hands was passed - certainly without a single vote against it, though there might have been one or two abstentions in the forest of hands that went up to vote it through.

We understand the results of the form and a transcript of comments made at the meeting will be available shortly, and we'll bring then to you as soon as they are.

Dated:  26 April 2008


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