The Shoebury Flood Defences meeting called by the Friends of Shoebury Common, at Shoeburyness High School last night, was a somewhat one-sided affair. It was thus because of the refusal to attend by council officers and Conservative councillors.
I can understand why officers would be reluctant and I think it is our (councillors) role to justify council decisions and face the music. Officers, after all, only act on the guidance of the administration. But, I do think it a mistake that the blue ward councillors avoided the occasion.
To be fair to Cllrs Cox et al, I am not convinced that the meeting was well advertised – I only found out through a couple of chance conversations. I also am cognizant of the fact that some will have been otherwise engaged. However, there are nine councillors who represent the three wards most affected by the changes being proposed and only two (Cllrs Chalk and Woodley) turned up – both from the Independent Group. The three wards have five Conservative councillors and surely they could have ensured that at least one of them was present?
In the audience was Cllr Martin Terry, thus making four of the possible 50 present. I doubt that invitations were extended to all councillors and I presume that they thought this is only relevant to those who represent Thorpe, West Shoebury and Shoeburyness. All councillors have a say in what goes on in the town, regardless of ward, and I suggest that organisers of any public event should consider inviting all councillors along.
Those assembled (I estimate somewhere in excess of a hundred and somewhat shy of two hundred) were clearly unhappy, but certainly not aggressive. I have twice voted for the council’s preferred option, and this is widely known. I did not get a hostile reception (anything but) and was positively name-checked. I think that my being prepared to turn up and listen was appreciated.
The event was chaired by Peter Holden, although I am unconvinced that I have got his surname right. There were five speakers, and they were followed by questions and comments from the audience.
Peter Grubb was first on. He explained why Cllr Cox (who is clearly the baddie as far as many present were concerned) and council experts were not present. The excuse was that “there has been enough debate already”. I repeat that I fully understand why officers were not there, but it surely was an own goal for Cllr Cox and colleagues to snub this event, even if they felt they would be going over old ground. A significant chunk of their electorate is unhappy and being unable to hold their councillors to account will only exacerbate this.
Peter Lovett was second up; he read out part of Cllr Cox’s comments at council. There were many complaints regarding Cllr Cox and the (supposed) lack of transparency at the council.
Ray Bailey urged the audience to watch the council webcasts. He condemned the Conservative administration (a developing theme amongst most of the speakers and the audience). He said he had facts that were at variance with what the council expert had stated.
Ron Woodley, present in his capacity as spokesman for the Burges Estates Residents Association, acknowledged the need for improved sea defences but did not want a cheap option. He believes “democracy locally is at risk”.
Cllr Anne Chalk also wants improved flood defences, but not the council’s preferred option. She suggested that the soil taken from the Cliffs slippage could be used at East beach. She also stated that the Tories voted like automatons.
All (well, most anyway) suggested that they wanted a public inquiry, and this is being mooted as a way to stop this development.
Audience members spoke about the need for a beach re-charge, and whether sea defences were even needed. Reference was made to May’s elections (I suspect few present will be supporting the Conservative candidates); there was also the issue of housing development and the feeling that the council plans were a way of getting more homes built.
I made no contribution to the debate, I wanted to listen and assimilate. I have voted the way I have because I do believe that we must improve our sea defences. I have opted for the best value solution. I have taken the view that the council experts are just that – experts. I am not, my decision is based on trust. If it can be proved that the alternatives are cheaper and better then I will readily switch my support.