Our right to observe

I write reluctantly on the matter of the Torridge District Council’s recent controversial plans meeting where police and security guards were employed to control and exclude members of the public from the committee room.

The fascinating topics of planning matters and Torridge’s plans committee has been my “specialist subject” for many years, during which time I have, as a representative of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, probably observed more plans meetings than any of the committee members and most of the officers of TDC.

It therefore comes particularly hard to find myself, along with many other members of the public, excluded from a large part of two recent meetings of the Torridge plans committee, simply because no measures had been taken to arrange a venue with the capacity to accommodate the number of people that could reasonably have been expected to attend.

I would not want to receive special treatment; this is not about me, but about the legal right of the public to observe the workings of the plans committee and the local authority’s clear responsibility in law to allow them access.

I consider the claim that they could not have anticipated the large attendance to be entirely fatuous as this was the second or third time the problem had occurred and it was immediately obvious to me, on sight of the agenda for the meeting, that an exceptionally high turnout could be expected.

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This problem never occurred under the previous regime, before the last elections, when the committee used to meet in a large room at Caddsdown business support centre whenever particularly controversial matters that could be expected to attract a high attendance were to be decided.

Following the latest meeting, which was reported in the Gazette recently, I wrote a polite letter of protest to various councillors and executives at TDC, asking in particular for an assurance that this situation would not be allowed to recur, but the reply I received from the Head of Paid Services was little more than a repeat of the press release that appeared in the papers following the event.

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This was, in my opinion, sickeningly complacent, self-congratulatory at their success in keeping all those potentially violent anti-turbine thugs at bay, and offering no suggestion that they might consider any alternative course of action in future.

I’ve always tried hard to be conciliatory, constructive and non-confrontational in my dealings with Torridge District Council but this episode, and their response to my protest, has impelled me to make my dissatisfaction public.

C P Hassall

(via email)

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