Tuesday, 24 January 2012
Painting the flowers red, Part Two
Last night's Forum was well attended, with most residents there present in order to protest about the outrageous new scheme by, you know who, Brian Coleman, Cabinet Member for the Environment, in which our parks and greenspaces will be hired out for private use, and may even be closed to residents for such purposes in the future.
Yes, I know it sounds unbelievable, even by the base standards that apply here in Broken Barnet, but it has been agreed, by whom we do not know, and the 'consultation process' that has just come to an end was not, in fact, as many residents thought, an exercise to seek their views on the principle of pimping our parks to private customers, but merely a PR stunt pretending to solicit their opinions on the type of events that be encouraged in such locations.
There was an attending cohort of councillors: Tories John Marshall and Dean Cohen, both of whom looked very uncomfortable throughout, Labour members Jim Tierney, Alan Schneiderman, Anne Hutton, Ross Houston, Lib Dem Jack Cohen.
When Mrs Angry arrived, she sat at the front, just in front of Cllr Marshall, just to keep him company. Of course he only turns up at these events to see Mrs Angry, to save himself from hours of lingering next to the nut counter in Waitrose in the hope of some light conversation, and misplaced sympathy from her daughter.
Cllr Marshall and Mrs Angry had an interesting discussion on the subject of the censorship of the Forums. Cllr Marshall is an intelligent man, and an experienced politician, and is clearly uncomfortable with the constitutional changes which have facilitated this assault on the process of 'engagement' with the electorate. When asked how he could reconcile the changes with the government's principle of localism and transparency, well: he could offer no response. He pointed out he had not taken part in the constitution committee which sanctioned such changes. Mrs Angry remarked, with some amusement, that she had bothered to sit through the meeting where the amendments had been passed and wondered why the Tory councillors who wish to disassociate themselves from such undemocratic developments remained silent, and did not seek to take an active interest in the proposals or to influence their colleagues when taking such decisions.
Sitting on the panel were the Chair, Reuben Thompstone, vice chair, Graham Old, and three officers, one from Governance, one from Highways, and Mr John McArdle from parking.
The Chair announced that he would not be reading his way through the rules.This came as a great relief, as a ten minute lecture on the subjects which are now forbidden from inclusion at a public forum is guaranteed to enrage an already mutinous audience, and makes Mrs Angry inclined to want to grab Cllr Thompstone by the tie and give him a well, a good talking to, shall we say?
Ah. First item: Mrs Angry's question about the parks. Here we go again:
1. The council has just announced plans to hire out parts of some of our local parks for private functions and other events. I would like to know:
a. Is it the intention of the council to allow any of these parks to be fully closed to the public for any event?
b. Has external legal advice been taken on the grounds for allowing such use of the parks?
c. Has an equalities impact assessment study been carried out?
d. Why has Friary Park been missed off the list of parks intended for the scheme? Has the Cabinet member for the Environment withheld it from the scheme and if so why?
e. The scheme includes Scratchwood greenspace. Is the Cabinet Member for the Environment aware that this location is known for its use by 'dogging' enthusiasts, and does the council really think this is a suitable venue for weddings and other such events?
Before Mrs Angry began her supplementary questions, she took the opportunity to protest about the fact that her other questions, mostly on public works issues as decreed by the new regulations, had been rejected, and that she had been informed by Mr McArdle that now public works issues that were boroughwide may not be raised, which is why her further question about park hire, had been excluded:
2. For further clarification in regard to the park hire scheme:
a. Please confirm that the consultation exercise carried out in relation to the park hire scheme is not, as many residents falsely believe, over the principle of hiring the parks out, but to 'consult' users about the variation of uses that the scheme may involve.
b. Please confirm exactly when the decision to hire parks out in his way was made, and by whom.
c. Please confirm that the total estimated revenue from the park hire scheme will be in the region of £30,000.
d. What are the estimated extra budget costs required in order to implement and maintain this scheme, for example in the use of extra supervisory staff, litter removal, insurance?
Why is it that the first question was allowed, but not the second?
Mrs Angry asked the Chair the same question she had posed to his colleague John Marshall: how exactly was such censorship and repression of debate compatible with his own government's policy on localism and transparency?
Councillor Reuben Thompstone shifted uncomfortably in his seat and stared back at Mrs Angry without speaking. She gestured encouragingly to him to respond to the point she was making. He refused, and said he would not reply. Mrs Angry can only assume, Councillor Thompstone, that you would not reply because you know that you are completely in the wrong, and that what you and your Tory colleagues are doing is utterly inexcusable.
A resident who Mrs Angry will call Mr P was sitting at the front, glowering with ill contained fury. He had been the man who caused a riot at a previous Forum and ended up sitting at the table in front of the Chair, on a chair pulled to with in inches of Thompstone's face, where he remained for the rest of the evening. Really funny, but in a tragic sort of way.
Mr P stood up now and yelled, in some detail, and with some force, his deeply held objections to the contraints of the Forum.
'Censorship,' he pointed out, 'is not democracy!'
Libdem Jack Cohen intervened. He had been present at a recent meeting where the definition of 'public works', and what may or may now be raised at our forums had been formalised by the council, but he could not remember any mention of the exclusion of 'boroughwide' issues. Ah. How very interesting, thought Mrs Angry. It made no difference, though, as far as the Chair was concerned.
On with supplementary questions then, as the written answers to her question were so evasive.
a. please confirm that parks will be entirely closed to residents during a private event if requested, and tell us how often this will be allowed.
b. have you taken external legal advice?
c.can I have a copy of the document detailing the decision not to hold an equalities impact assessment?
d and e: please answer the question, in both cases specifically referring to Brian Coleman, the Cabinet member for environment - did he withhold Friary Park from the list of suitable park venues and if so is there not a conflict of interest when his company holds a summer show in this park at a reduced level of charge and secondly (and I am afraid this is where Mrs Angry disgraced herself and, provoked by the expressions on the faces of the panel members in front of her, started laughing uncontrollably, shamefully, like a silly schoolgirl) - was he asked whether he was aware that Scratchwoods is an area notorious for 'dogging' enthusiasts, and if he considered this was a suitable location for weddings and family events?
Mr P jumped up again. He had been having correspondance with an officer on this issue, which is one he feels very strongly about. He had been told the parks may close entirely for such events, perhaps as many as ten times a year.
The chair yelled back: Mr P, you are disrupting the meeting!
No, he replied: you are disrupting our lives!
Mr P referred to 'Coleman and his minions' who claim that this scheme will rake in revenue for the council, but pointed out that the figures supplied suggest that less than £30,000 per annumn will be made from such hire, and we do not know how much extra cost must be balanced against any such minimal profit.
Mr P reminded the Chair that our parks were created by Victorian philanthropists for the benefit of the community, not to be used as commercial enterprises. To hire out our public parks and openspaces is a major deviation of use, will lose money, and for what? In order to paint the flowers red for Councillor Coleman.
Hmm, thought Mrs Angry, musing on the Alice in Wonderland reference. Painting the flowers red, a suitable metaphor for the way in which everything must be forced to comply with the lunatic policies of our Town Hall tyrants.
Other residents made very good points about the proposals. Tirza Waisel asked about the future status of Finchley Community Festival, which was crushed by a demand from Cllr Coleman for a hire charge of around £3,000 while the Summer Show he runs in Friary Park was given rather more favourable terms.
Mr P was not happy with the anwers being given to residents' queries and remarked that proper answers were being withheld, and the 'mechanical approach' of the chair was obstructing the 'debate'.
Another resident voiced the daring suggestion that community events should be free of charge, and a lady by the name of Mrs Read made important points baout the hidden costs of the scheme, the 'lack of positive feeling' towards it, the coming election and the risk of antagonising the electorate. She also reiterated the feelings of most of us by reminding the Chair that in fact, the parks and greenspaces belong to us.
It was clear from the response of the officer that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the parks scheme. Mrs Angry doubts whether the legal case for what is proposed has been properly researched: not that this is a major concern to ourTory council, until a mistake costs them, or rather us, an enormous amount of money.
One very interesting remark was made by the officer: in contradiction of what many residents have recently been told, that in fact the decision to hire out the parks has been agreed, he claimed 'no decision has been made'. Is this more confusion, and spin, or the truth? Hard to tell, in Broken Barnet.
Mr P was becoming very cross. Pandemonium ensued in the time honoured tradition of this Forum. The chair, who had repeatedly told him to shut up, said if he carried on he would have to leave. Mr P carried on.
I am going to ask you to leave for this continual interruption, snapped Cllr Thompstone
And I am going too ask you to leave for being a jackass, replied Mr P
Then there can be no meeting, said Thompstone, airily. Mrs Angry disputed this point, thinking we might very well do much better if he were not present.
I am now asking you to leave, said Thompstone to Mr P.
I am now asking you to leave, said Mr P.
The meeting, said Thompstone, is now suspended. He folded his arms. You are holding us all to ransom, he remarked, smugly.
Hypocrite, said Mr P.
Some residents became very frustrated at this point. Mr P commented that such a state of affairs was the thin end of the wedge, and the mark of a totalitarian government. He is right.
Shall we move on? suggested Mrs Angry, who also thoughtfully pointed out to the Chair that such arguments would not occur if he and his Tory colleageagues had not enraged the community with their determination to censor all public debate. Councillor Thompstone may not have taken Mrs Angry's observation entirely to heart, and indeed looked very cross. Oh well. The truth hurts, Councillor Thompstone, doesn't it?
There is a motion on this issue at tonight's full council meeting, which itself is preceded by an 'extraordinary' meeting of the council to er consider Labour's proposal for a parking amnesty before Christmas. Next Christmas, we must suppose. Better late than never, eh?
Bearing in mind the huge resentment felt by residents over the parking and the parks issue, it promises to be an interesting night. Mrs Angry is this week frankly sick to death of Barnet council and all its works, public or otherwise, but will probably be in attendance.
Funnily enough, by the way, still no response to further emails in regard to visiting the council offices tomorrow to inspect the register of councillors' interests. Not very impressive, is it?
Oh, nearly forgot: here to cheer us all up as we contemplate the council's planned commercial exploitation of our parks is a salutory tale, courtesy of Fascinating Aida.
This is dedicated to the councillor I overheard at last night's meeting asking what dogging was all about.
Avoid if you are easily offended (and if so what are you doing reading this blog?) or are frightened by references to sexual activities involving someone called Brian.
Oh, and just for a regular reader who enjoys retro references to the rozzers ... Enjoy.