It does appear that the hunting season for district councillors has opened in your letters columns.
Jane Flanagan feels we are not standing up for our constituents. B Evans dismisses us as self-serving. Finally, John Evans, displaying even less judgement, asserts that anything less than independent-run councils will result in control by incompetents.
I hope you will allow me some space to refute these charges.
John Evans is the easiest to deal with. In case he has forgotten we do have an independent voice on Derbyshire Dales District Council in the shape of Cllr Frederickson. However, I do not think for one minute that David would subscribe to the view that having a party label condemns the other councillors to a charge of incompetence. I do not feel for one minute that there is any difference whatsoever in the way in which he and the rest of us evaluate and vote on the issues before us.
Yes, there is the possibility that those of us in the party groups have to consider the imposition of a whip.
But I can assure Mr Evans that in the Labour Group at least that whip is used very sparingly and I can happily say I cannot remember a single instance in which Cllr Ratcliffe has dictated how I should vote.
If John Evans is still smarting over particular decisions by the planning committee, he should remember that those decisions were supported by councillors representing different parties, acting independently and with an open mind, since the Code of Conduct certainly does not allow party whips on planning applications. Finally, is Mr Evans naive enough to believe that a large Independent block on the council would surrender the imposition of a whip on issues that it felt strongly about?
I suspect also that the Independent tag is subject to abuse at times. Did not Mr Evans apply and fail to be a Tory Party candidate in the last County elections?
Whilst in May at the District election Cllr Furness stood in Bradwell as an Independent candidate but within months stood again as a Tory, and now takes the Tory whip.
I agree strongly with Jane Flanagan when she argues that councillors should listen to the views of those they represent. However, those waters get muddied when it comes to an issue like the Local Plan and the housing needs of the district as a whole.
I do happen to agree with her about the potential problems of putting too many houses in Tansley.
But perhaps Jane should tell us how many houses she would like to see in Tansley because so far her interventions at the district council planning meetings have been to oppose developments. In terms of this month’s decisions on the Local Plan, councillors were rightly informed that we had to set a reasonable target for housing development in the district for the period to 2028.
I think we have done that in a way that can be defended to central government should that need arise.
The decision reflects a workable compromise which balances the future needs for housing against the desire to protect green space.
This is an issue on which district councillors have to listen to the needs of the district as whole, and not just local constituents. That said, Jane, and other Tansley residents, will have an opportunity to make their views known when the council comes to making particular decisions about the implementation of the Local Plan as they affect Tansley.
It is difficult to answer B. Evans’ charge that we councillors are self-serving since he offers no evidence to support the charge. I suppose I shall just have to contact my colleagues on Chesterfield Borough Council and see why Mr Evans goes there to avoid self-serving councillors.
However, his venom seems to arise over issues relating to Matlock Town Centre and I do have to say that I share some of the concerns raised in the Mercury’s letters column in recent weeks.
For a start, I do not feel that councillors have been given any real opportunity to discuss the wider aspects of the Lido development.
When the decision to demolish the Lido was taken by the Planning Committee the report also contained a suggestion by Matlock Civic Forum that we should consider alternative uses. When I raised that suggestion nobody from the opposition groups seemed to agree with me, including the councillors representing Matlock wards.
When I further argued that we should look at the possibility of a parking scheme that could promote local independent traders or provide long-stay parking provisions for people who work in Matlock, I was told those issues were not relevant to the Planning Committee.
There was an item in the subsequent budget report relating to the Lido car park suggesting it would add £500,000 to our revenue.
As this gave no further information, I again raised the same questions but was met with stony silence.
Obviously, the issue of the Lido car park and also that of the relocation of the market should best be taken in the light of the future redevelopment of the Bakewell Road area.
Several of your correspondents have seen fit over the last few weeks to comment on aspects of the submissions so far received on this redevelopment. They are the lucky ones because the bulk of the district councillors have not had sight of the proposals, let alone an opportunity to discuss them.
In conclusion, I have to stress that the charges made against district councillors, whatever their political hue, are generally wide of the mark and devalue the other points made by their authors. If there is a kernel of truth in the views expressed recently it is that councillors do not always have an opportunity to discuss fully some of the decisions being made on our behalf, and that too often we are being presented with fait accompli which we can consider but with little hope of influencing. Previously, councillors could call in for scrutiny reports we felt unhappy about. Sadly, the council has now abolished the overview and scrutiny committee and removed even that minimal safeguard.
Cllr Bob Cartwright
Elected Member for Bonsall, Cromford, & Matlock- Bath Derbyshire Dales District Council