Ordinary person from Norwich ignored

colmansmustard

Something ordinary from Norwich

I’ve never taken part in a focus group but I can imagine the experience would be quite fun. In my mind they start with cheery if slightly patronising bonhomie, followed by intense scrutiny of a particular product or colour or political slogan. Cup of tea. Free vouchers. The slightly smug feeling that you might have said something significant. And off into the street again.

Last year a number of ordinary people took part in focus groups about the referendum question as the Electoral Commission tried to work out whether the question proposed by the government “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” was sufficiently intelligible.

The resulting report, published in September 2015, reveals that few stones were left unturned. Group participants were quizzed as to the exact implications of the words yes and no, what stay or remain meant to them, even the real significance of the word ‘member’. Would it not be better to say ‘be’? And how about EU rather than ‘European Union’?

In the event the Electoral Commission concluded that we should not have a yes/no question and, as most of us now know because the central recommendation was accepted by the government, went with ‘Remain a member of the European Union’ and ‘Leave the European Union’. And so began the process of unravelling.

For the most part, the report is sufficiently obsessive to be left well alone. It is merely depressing to see that the deep divide that now afflicts the nation was apparent even then.

3.42 Some others felt that the phrase ‘member of the European Union’ could convey positive feelings of inclusivity and therefore that the phrase was not neutral…

3.43 In contrast, a couple of participants suggested that ‘leave’ as the last part of the question could result in a ‘recency’ effect, encouraging people to vote for the UK to leave the EU. 

But there is an interesting series of paragraphs on page 26 entitled “What will the outcome of the vote be either way?” The paragraphs are shocking to read now because many of the 1600 respondents had clearly expressed doubt in 2015 as to how helpful the proposed question was really going to be.

3.72 Participants were not clear about what the terms of membership would be for the United Kingdom if there was a majority ‘yes’ or a majority ‘no’ vote. As one person put it: ‘If you’re not a member of the European Union, what would you be then?’ (mini-depth, Norwich, female, 25-44 years)

3.73 Participants wanted to know whether a majority vote to remain a member of the European Union would mean: continuation of current terms of membership; continued membership with different terms of membership; or continued membership and adoption of the Euro.

3.74 Similarly, participants wanted to know whether a majority vote to leave the European Union would mean: entire separation from the European Union; renegotiated terms of membership; some kind of partial membership; or a relationship with European Union with trade agreements similar to other European countries that are not part of the European Union.

3.75 Participants indicated they wanted answers to the following questions:

Will a majority ‘yes/ remain/ stay’ vote mean:
• Continuation of current terms of membership?
• Continued membership with different terms of membership?

Will a majority ‘no/ leave’ vote mean:
• Entire separation from the European Union?
• Renegotiated terms of membership?
• ‘What’s the consequences of saying no? What’s the next option if you say no? Is it partial membership?’ (Mini-group, London, 45-59 years, BC1)
• A relationship with the European Union with trade agreements similar to other European countries that are not part of the European Union? 

The Electoral Commission maintain in an earlier paragraph (1.18) that its job was merely to advise on the intelligibility of the question and “does not extend to suggesting alterations that would change the substance of the question or introduce new factors which might alter the nature of the debate.”

With the power of retrospect I wonder how the commissioners feel now? Surely a complete lack of clarity as to what happens as a result of the vote constitutes lack of “intelligibility”? If we were to hold referenda on, for example, the monarchy, would it be sufficient just to say “I do want the Queen/ I do not want the Queen.” Would such a choice be deemed “intelligible” – given the lack of clear identification of an alternative?

The 25-44 year old female from Norwich quoted in the report had it absolutely right when she said  ‘If you’re not a member of the European Union, what would you be then?’ Her words should have rung massive alarm bells with the Electoral Commission that the question was simply not intelligible. As the report says “Participants were not clear…”

Unfortunately for all of us this ordinary person was ignored. The Commission was far too preoccupied by precise definitions of small words as to not to be able to really see this ordinary person or the bigger picture. They should have thrown it back to the government at that time to come up with a question that gave some indication as to the future. They didn’t. So it was unintelligible then. And definitely still unintelligible now.

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WYE WITH HINXHILL FOR GOVERNMENT

imageA power vacuum. We’ve said goodbye to Brussels. Westminster has dissolved into squabbling about the precise emissions from its own rear end. There seems no alternative. Wye with Hinxhill Parish Council will have to take control.

In these difficult times, we can supply reassuring good leadership. A parish council with seven councillors and one clerk, we have an ex-brigadier, a former housing association manager, a journalist, a playwright and, most useful of all, a breakdown recovery company director among our number. And thus far we haven’t been tainted by any expenses scandal. Our allowance is £100 a year and most of us don’t claim any more than that in expenses.

In contrast to Westminster, we are terribly polite, practically falling over ourselves to allow a colleague to perform some task or other. We are totally united on Europe because none of us have the foggiest how each other voted. And I’m sure our training managing litter bins, the village green and the local lavs, recently divested from the local megastate (Ashford Borough Council), will be invaluable when it comes to working out a new trade agreement with the EU.

There is of course the small problem of our own authority. We might be accused of being in our own bubble – population 2,500, halfway between Ashford and Canterbury… And our media relations might not be quite what they should be – the parish website is still crowing about a village hall extravaganza held in 2015. But nevertheless, like Jeremy Corbyn, we are confident that the country will swing behind us in any snap election.

And if that were to happen… then perhaps the world might turn away from studying the failings of the EU and the implosions at Westminster to study what is going wrong at the very lowest level of British democracy?

Oh dear..

I seem to have abruptly changed my tune. Did I write “what is going WRONG?” Perhaps things in Wye with Hinxhill are not quite so rosey after all? I feel a sudden sweat. My own spin machine – homemade and made out of recycled material – is unravelling: thoughts that have been lying dormant for years are coming bubbling to the surface.

Oh dear oh dear. Doubts about our leadership potential are about to be released. The brigadier will not be happy.

Here they come… How is it that in a community of 2,500 people only 7 people come forward to work as councillors? Why are there four vacancies on the council? Why are these public servants, in common with local councils throughout the country, overwhelmingly white, elderly and male? Why don’t people know who their local councillors are and what they do? Why isn’t more use made of social media to engage the young? Why isn’t it more of an attractive, enjoyable task? Why is there such a disconnect between politics at parish, borough, county, national and EU level? Why is there no acknowledgement or thanks for what we do?

Oh dear…

I got involved in local politics because I thought that working locally might be a way to accelerate social and environmental change. Five years on and I’ve had to adjust my views. I still think change can be pushed forward locally but I no longer think that working on the local council is the way to make it happen. It was perhaps naive of me to think otherwise. I now think that reforming local democracy is one of the changes that needs to happen.

The past few days have indicated very clearly that democracy at international and national level is broken. But let’s not ignore what’s been happening locally for years. And, given that we have a substantial rebuilding process on our hands, let’s please start from the bottom up.

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PARISH HEADLINES 46

This is my recollection of last week’s parish council meeting:

  • Councillor Shoults chaired the meeting in the absence of the council chair Noel Ovenden. The community warden was also busy elsewhere.
  • Councillor Shoults updated the council on the ongoing discussions with Telereal Trillium. In particular he referred to a statement which is due to be simultaneously released by Telereal Trillium and the parish council regarding the drafting of the WYE3 Masterplan. While the text has been nearly agreed, it has not yet been released.
  • Councillor Shoults said that he was writing to officers at Ashford Borough Council concerning the date for the Neighbourhood Plan referendum (which we have been told won’t happen before September).
  • A meeting to discuss plans for the development of the Free School had been postponed. The PC understands that there are issues regarding costs which need to be resolved before the developers meet with the parish council.
  • County Councillor Andrew Wickham is meeting with Kent Highways regarding the speed limit on Harville Road and will report back.
  • Councillor Reece informed the council that the Village Hall development committee will shortly be applying for £15,000 from the parish council for phase 1 of the village hall development project.
  • The development of the garden at the Rectory was discussed. Councillors were going to enquire of Ashford Council about access rights of 1-9 Vicarage Gardens.
  • The parish council is being audited this week. A meeting to approve the accounts for 2015-16 has been arranged for Thursday.

 

 

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PARISH HEADLINES 45

This is my recollection of last week’s parish council meeting:

  • The council elected Noel Ovenden to be Chair of the Parish Council, to replace Councillor Shoults who is standing down. A vote of thanks was proposed to Councillor Shoults who was elected Deputy Chair. Councillor Ovenden is also to chair the Resources Committee.
  • Councillor Shoults reported on the meeting with Telereal Trillium and Ashford Borough Council which took place on April 25. At the meeting, Telereal Trillium agreed that the Neighbourhood Plan constituted the basis for the forthcoming Masterplan for WYE3. It was also agreed that the parish council and Telereal Trillium should work together on a Masterplan for the area. Exactly how this will work will be the basis of forthcoming meetings, the first of which is on Monday May 9. Please see Councillor Shoults’ full report here: 160507NPreporttoCouncil.
  • At the same meeting, Simon Cole from Ashford Borough Council explained that Ashford electoral services were unable to carry out a Neighbourhood Plan referendum in Wye before September.
  • Councillor Reece is carrying out an audit of community spaces (and service providers?). This is in order to establish clarity on what the community might like to be sited in the College buildings.
  • The borough councillor Noel Ovenden reported that the election of officers has now taken place at the borough. Noel is on the Economic Regeneration Investment Board and the Broadband Hard To Reach panel. He said that considerable development is to take place in Ashford town centre over the next few years, starting with the cinema currently under construction on Elwick Road.
  • Our Place Wye has registered as a community interest company separate from the parish council and has its own bank account. It is therefore able to apply for grants to carry out community work in its own right. Anyone interested should contact Penny Haynes or Dave Martin.
  • It was agreed that a voucher would be distributed to the recipients of the Parish Awards starting this year. The award winners have been agreed and will be notified prior to the annual parish meeting on Wednesday May 25.
  • It was noted that the dispute concerning the permissive footpath adjacent to the Old Vicarage on the Green was continuing. This however is a matter for the rights of way department at Kent County Council. Anyone who would like to take the matter up with KCC should contact the parish clerk in the first instance.
  • The community warden reported that the Monday community cafe event at the Wye Corner Cafe was thriving. In addition, a community lunch will soon be provided at the village hall on a Wednesday with the help of the catering company which provides food for the primary school (a roast dinner for about £4.50).
  • It was agreed to support Our Place in the organisation of a community tea/lunch? on Churchfield Green on June 12 – as part of the national Big Lunch, to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday.
  • The community warden also reported that he’d been taking some of the community’s older residents to take part in an intergenerational project at Wye School: they had been interviewed and drawn by the children.
  • The defibrillator has been installed at the fire station.
  • The youth shelter has been repaired and is now being stored at Perry Court prior to a decision being taken as to where it should be located
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PARISH HEADLINES 44

This is my recollection of the parish council meeting last week:

  • The new parish clerk, Vinny McLean, was officially welcomed to the Council. She is going to be working from the new parish council office on Bramble Lane (Briar Close). The council passed a vote of thanks to the Baptist Church in Brook for accommodating the office for the past 4 years.
  • Councillor Shoults reported that the meeting with Telereal Trillium and Ashford Borough Council which had been set for March 24 had been postponed due to illness. It is likely to take place towards the end of April.
  • Councillor Ovenden has been discussing the date of the referendum on the Wye Neighbourhood Plan with Ashford Borough Council. It is still unclear as to when this will be. The parish council feel that it would be good if it could happen as soon as possible while the Neighbourhood Plan process and consultation is still fresh in people’s minds.
  • John Mansfield has obtained details from the Land Registry which seem to suggest that Telereal Trillium paid £11.15 million for the WYE3 site. However, the documentation is unclear whether this was for ‘everything’ so we are endeavouring to obtain clarification.
  • A parishioner has complained to the parish council about the closure of the footpath alongside the Old Vicarage on the Green. This has been a ‘permissive path’ and I told the council that it was my understanding that the path had been closed in order that the new owners can restore the garden to the rear of the house. It was agreed that the council should contact Kent County Council footpaths department to obtain an explanation as to the rights and wrongs of the situation.
  • There was discussion about the plaque for the Centenary Green and about a tree for the Recreation Ground. Both matters are in hand.
  • The community warden reported that there have been several incidences of petty crime: theft of a motor vehicle, theft of solar lights, and the ADAS site has been broken into and vandalised. In addition there have been issues with teenagers using the communal areas of Martin House, sometimes in the middle of the night.
  • The first subsidised community lunch, organised by Our Place, was held at the Corner Cafe. 7 people attended.
  • A gas-fired beacon is to be lit on the Crown on April 21 as part of  the Queen’s 90th-birthday celebrations.
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PARISH HEADLINES 43

This is my recollection of last week’s parish council meeting:

  • It was agreed to accept the revisions to the Neighbourhood Plan as recommended by examiner Richard High. (These revisions had been previously accepted by the community at a public meeting on February 22nd.) Councillor Shoults explained that the procedure was now to request Ashford Borough Council (ABC) for a referendum. And that thanks should be expressed to officers at Ashford for helping us get this far.
  • Councillor Bartley suggested changes to the picture on the front cover of the plan – and also that a dedication to the late Ian Coulson, previous chair of the Neighbourhood Plan group, should be included on the index page.
  • Councillor Shoults reported that he has been writing to various MPs and ministers of the government to object to the extension of permitted development rights beyond May 2016 – which would allow Telereal Trillium to build 52 flats on the ADAS site. Unfortunately it seems likely that the extension will go ahead nonetheless.
  • Councillor Shoults also reported that ABC, Telereal Trillium and the parish council were now agreed that there should be a collaborative masterplan for WYE3, conducted within the guidelines of the Neighbourhood Plan. The first meeting to address how this might come about will take place in Ashford on March 24.
  • At the public meeting on February 22nd there were concerns raised about the treatment of commercial tenants by both Imperial College and Telereal Trillium, and, at this parish council meeting, it was noted that one of the village’s largest employers BCP Certis was leaving the village with the loss of 30-40 jobs. Councillors resolved to find out more about reasons for the company’s departure.
  • There was much discussion about projects which could be in receipt of Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments. It was decided that this subject merited a meeting of its own.
  • It was noted that there was a new lease agreed between the tennis club and the Village Hall and Recreation Ground charity.
  • It was agreed to light a beacon on the Crown to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday in April.
  • The community warden, Richard Sinden, talked about numerous incidents of petty crime in the village:  petrol stealing, milk bottle stealing, fly-tipping, and quite substantial trees being felled to make fires in the woods.
  • The community warden said that he’d also accompanied Dave Martin on a tour of eating outlets in Wye to find out about affordable meals for the elderly. This information is to be published as part of the Our Place project.
  • The borough councillor, Noel Ovenden, said that there was nothing of significance to report from Ashford Borough Council.

 

 

 

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PARISH HEADLINES 42

This is my recollection of the parish council meeting last week:

  • The Neighbourhood Plan has now been amended to take account of recommendations made by the examiner Richard High. A public meeting is being planned for February 22nd where these changes will be explained to the community. A decision on whether to proceed to referendum will be made at the next council meeting in early March. (The decision has to be made both by the Parish Council and Ashford Borough Council.) See here for Councillor Shoults’ full report: 160113NP Council report on examination and beyond
  • Councillors discussed the budget for 2016-17 at some length. It was agreed that there needed to be a substantial increase to the precept in order to cover costs of the parish office moving to Wye, improvements to the village hall, and the recruitment of a responsible financial officer to help with parish accounts.
  • It was noted that Telereal Trillium intend to upgrade the offices to 52 small accommodation units on the ADAS site, using law on permitted development. Councillor Shoults has made representation to the local MP (and others) suggesting that such permitted development rights should not be permitted in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • Councillors discussed Section 106 agreements. It was noted that the three new houses on Oxenturn Road would deliver £2071 each for the outside space connected to the village hall project (see here for agreement). Councillor Ovenden explained that Section 106 money could only be allocated by the borough to an existing project (and budget). There was a need therefore to draw up further projects in Wye, and also to log where Section 106 monies were being allocated.
  • Councillor Bartley reported that Locality had given a verbal assurance that the final £21,000 of the Our Place grant would be paid.
  • A grant application was going to be made for £3000 to the Children’s Playing Field Charity to help pay for play equipment costs and maintenance.
  • The borough councillor Noel Ovenden reported that it had been a quiet month with few meetings. The boundaries commission had made recommendation that wards in Ashford should be made more equal, and that this would probably mean that Wye will expand. Councillor Ovenden is on the group responding to the recommendations and is therefore well-placed to define the nature of such expansion.
  • The community warden was absent/otherwise engaged
  • It was noted that the Queen was going to be 90 this year. Councillors discussed whether we should mark the occasion in some way.
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