To Colchester Town Hall! …on Wednesday evening for the first Cabinet meeting of the new Colchester Borough Council administration. Nice weather for ducks – and we’re not talking about sitting ducks either, oh no, not here, nope…
It promised to be an agenda packed with more twists and turns than a walk around the Dutch Quarter. Some forty minutes later and the anti-climax of Cabinet felt more like a drive down Cowdray Avenue in the rain.
Yep – that thrilling, folks.
As ever, it is the Have Your Say segment that provides the best opportunity to hold the LibLab / Independent Cabinet to account. Other towns would die for this type of drama and theatre, which remains a genuine exercise in citizen engagement [URGH] and, y’know, democracy ‘n all that.
Being blessed with the likes of The Mercury, Headgate, The Lakeside et al, it is the Cabinet politicians of Sunny Colch that are cast as the amateur dramatic crowd, looking nervously into the wings and forgetting their lines come the Cabinet curtain call.
First up was resident Nick. That’s all you need to know:
“I applaud that you are getting tough on re-cycling, but you could help yourself if you came up with some even better solutions. In particular you could provide separate plastic bins around the town in the locations where you already provide general waste bins.”
Good point, well put across, Nick.
I agree with Nick, etc, which was the exact same view coming from the Cllr Martin Hunt, the LibDem portfolio holder for Street and Waste:
“This is a very good idea.”
There we go – democracy done and dusted. Can we go home now please, Miss?
Ah, but what home?
Did someone say Joyce Brooks House?
Have Your Say – and indeed the majority of Cabinet time – was taken up listening, and then dismissing the repeated calls for Cabinet to reverse the decision to close the sheltered housing along Oxford Road.
Resident Roy declared:
“I have some direct questions for Cllr Dopson, the new portfolio holder for Housing.”
But the new portfolio holder wasn’t running slightly late.
No worries. Resident Roy continued, aiming his attack on Coroner Young, the previous portfolio holder. Which always plays well to the gallery…
“You have said that you can’t help the nine remaining residents because they haven’t applied for alternative housing. As it isn’t our wish to move, this is why we are still here. You are fully aware through our solicitor that we are happy to move, but we want to move together.
It was Tim Young that tried to force us out of our home. We do not wish to move. It would break up our little community. The blame lies with Cllr Young.
As the new portfolio holder, we would like you to debate the full matter of Joyce Brooks House again. There is also the matter of our 4,000 strong petition that you have said is inappropriate.”
Eyes left – or possibly even right – and you could detect a slight patter of polite applause coming from the Colchester Conservatives.
There’s life in the Old Girl yet – Joyce Brooks, not the Colchester Conservative Party.
As for the Cabinet response for the call to debate the matter at Full Council?
Cllr Turrell confirmed:
“We have made our decision, we can’t change this.”
The Lady’s not for turning, etc. Joyce Brooks House ‘aint gonna be the patsy of the pasty in Sunny Colch.
Coroner Young chipped in:
“Can I add that it was not my decision, but a decision taken by Cabinet.”
The Chronic’s short introduction to CBC Cabinet meetings has taken the same course of events over recent months. Anyone could be mistaken for thinking that Cabinet is all about Joyce Brooks House. Like we said earlier – Have Your Say and democracy in Sunny Colch is ACE.
Especially so when the latest character to enter centre stage is that of Bobby Hunt, the Independent candidate that stood against Cllr Dopson in the Battle of the Greenstead at the recent CBC local elections.
Yer man Bobby added:
“Do you want to evict us? That would finish you off. Many of you are decent. You need to get rid of those that are dragging you down.”
No fingering here, so to speak, but eyeball-to-eyeball was made between yer man Bobby and a certain cabinet member during this part of the speech.
“New Labour descended into personal slander during the election campaign. Is that how you want Colchester Borough Council to behave?”
Joyce Brooks campaigner Andy Afford then posed the question:
“Why do the residents now require permission to invite guests round as part of Open Weekend?”
No real answer was offered up.
But there was to be a final twist in the Joyce Brooks plot, with a savage mauling coming from the unlikely Geoffrey Howe role being played by LibDem Cllr Nick Cope of Chirst Church ward, the very same hyperlocal patch where the complex is located:
“As time goes on, I find it less and less sympathetic to agree to the idea to sell Joyce Brooks House. Are we really expecting a huge increase in the number of disabled residents? If so, where are they coming from?
English Law is full of arguments based around the principle of being ‘reasonable.’ The Council has said that there is no budget to make Joyce Brooks 100% compliant with disabled access. I would suggest that the reasonable argument would overcome this.
This looks more like a move to sell, than an improvement on housing choice. I am in awe of the courage of Bobby Hunt and his friends.”
It is to the great credit that Cllr Cope made this speech. We are out of the election period, and he has no personal capital to make in supporting the residents. He does have plenty of political capital to lose however, something which his dignified speech didn’t seem too concerned with.
But anyway – bugger this for a game of political bunnies. What need is some optimism, celebrations, some hope – HANG OUT THE BUNTING: it’s only Cllr Will Quince, the Leader of the Colchester Conservative Party at Have Your Say:
“I erected [STOP IT] the Union Flag in my front garden. I eagerly waited for Jubilee bunting to go up on the High Street, but I have been reliably informed that as a council, we aren’t going to put any up.
The neighbouring towns and villages put us to shame. We’ve got the Halfords Tour Series – costing us £30,000 – bunting would have added to the sense of occasion. Plus bunting won’t go away – we can re-cycle it for future events.”
Someone point a big furry microphone at that man and get him to talk passionately about bunting. But not until the BIG Jubilee bunting question is answered by Cllr Turrell:
“We are celebrating the Jubilee here in Colchester by leaving a legacy. £2,000 is being made available to each councillor in each ward to spend. This is how we have chosen to celebrate. We are also offering small businesses funding as part of the Jubilee fund.”
And that Comrades was more or less Cabinet.
Well, not quite. Have Your Say dominated, but then there was the small matter of the agenda items to be rubber stamped without too much debate. The real decisions at CBC are often made behind closed doors, all ready for Cabinet to then give the nod and the wink to once a month around the big table.
And so stopwatches at the ready, the decision to allow the portfolio holder for Finance to choose a contractor to spend £1.2m on the extra facilities at Leisureworld was completed in under sixty seconds. Ditto for the appointment of councillors to the various external groups.
Cllr Quince managed to squeeze a little debate out of democracy, when stating that although he was in favour of sending members of his Conservative group to external training sessions, he would withdraw this offer if political capital was continued to be made out of the expenses come election time.
Also the agreement to upgrade the audio and video facilities at the Town Hall and Rowan House were welcomed by Cllr Quince, but he urged caution and asked for the decision to go to Scrutiny.
But having heard all the Joyce Brooks and bunting debate as part of Have Your Say, cabinet was in no mood to dither. The decision was made to press ahead, right here, right now.
Hang out the bunting and celebrate, Comrades.