...putting people before party

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Councillor Notes for Mar 2013

Careless Talk Costs Lives or in 2013, Careless Talk Costs Livelihoods.

Richard Bird

My Dad first came to Hunstanton in the 1960’s. He had done a deal that involved him taking a caravan in part exchange for a house he was selling. The caravan holiday industry, something he knew nothing about, was emerging at a staggering pace and placing a used caravan was difficult on any site let alone one as good as the one found in Hunstanton. Dad was very prone to attending auctions whenever possible, especially without my Mother. On a wet winter’s day he went alone to a sale of property locally, he told me the weather was so bad nobody else turned up and as had happened before he couldn’t resist, and mother wasn’t there, buying a house without even seeing it first, a bargain he said. And that was the first house in Hunstanton.

Then, as now, coming to this part of the world was like putting your clock back about 25 years, for all the right reasons. The lack of crime, graffiti, the charm of the locals and lots of other conditions made him, and eventually us, fall in love with Hunstanton and district.

However some things came as quite a shock, the constant power cuts, the lack of major shopping facilities, the logistics of travel, were for a family from initially London and then Luton quite a challenge but in the main seen as ‘part of the charm’. Although originally brought up in Great Cressingham near Swaffham, Dads family had moved to Edgware in N.W. London at around the start of the First World War. So for all our, and his, adult years we had been brought up in a major conurbation, the small town or village lifestyle was unknown to us until we reached Hunstanton.

The way that people interacted with each other was really very enlightening and once again very endearing, small town life was and is illuminating to say the least, the support that small towns and villages inhabitants get from their neighbours and friends, not to mention the churches and other organisations, is wonderful and much more ‘in my opinion’ than in larger Towns and Cities.

However, the point of this long introduction is to highlight a downside that could be avoided. I will give an example. When in the High Street of Hunstanton this week, I was in a retail shop and heard a conversation something like this:

Customer: I wanted to place my first big order with you today, but somebody has told me your closing down, so I have bought the goods elsewhere.
Shopkeeper: who told you that? Nothing could be further from the truth; we are flourishing and expanding, oh wait a minute we had a day off and closed the shop for the day. Somebody has made a big mistake.
Customer: Well I was told on good authority that this shop was closing for good.
Shopkeeper: who would say such a thing? It’s so damaging to spread lies like this, clearly not true and so malicious.

Anyway you get the drift. At this time of the year business is slow, we are a seasonal seaside area, and visitors are not queuing up anywhere. Many of the local business community go on their annual breaks at this time, because they know the trends of footfall. This could appear to be a closure but in reality it’s just a holiday. So my point is ‘careless talk costs livelihoods’, unless somebody who owns the business has told you please don’t repeat unsubstantiated gossip. It could cost somebody a good order, a job, or indeed cause the business to fail altogether.

By Easter I suspect that the town will be full of people again and flourishing again like most years. I have heard that there are 2 prospective tenants for shops in the High Street that should give us well over 90% occupancy for shop units in the Town. This is well above the national average I am told.

One last thing on the subject, last month I suggested making enquiries about closing the High Street for some weeks on a Sunday, this being a day when there are few or no deliveries. I am happy to report that enquiries are being made by members of the Chamber of Trade to High Street traders about this issue. Unhappily, it has been reported to me that the message has become distorted and quite wrongly some believed that the period was for several complete (7 days) full weeks. Chinese whispers?
When I stood to become a Town and a Boro’ Ward Councillor, my aim then as now is to serve. Represent the community as best I can, give up my time and expertise to get a better deal for the folks of the town and area, negotiate, compromise, gain consensus, win logical argument, look after the underdog and so much more.
What is proving to be the biggest challenge is to have the ‘wisdom of Solomon’. Trying to get consensus among the electorate is proving to be almost impossible. So what one group within the area wants is completely different from that of another group. For instance as an elected local councilor, I have been central to the discussions about the Spinney; the range of opinions is far reaching in the extreme, everything from ‘leave it alone completely’ to ‘we need to spend much more than what’s available’. Others say spend the money on other projects, the High Street, the Greens, a pier, a museum and so it goes on. We as a community have plenty of ideas - what we need is some agreement.

For years now I have believed that the local people of towns and parishes should have more say in their own futures; I still believe that this should happen. Now the reality is that somebody from outside, someone neutral, will probably make the decisions about the Spinney and any other major development in the near future.
Some readers may not be aware of the different systems used to make decisions by local government. At Hunstanton Town Council we use the committee protocol, this allows a lot of debate and discussion, it takes more time but, in my opinion, is more democratic than the alternative.

The Cabinet system is the Boro’ Council’s chosen system - much more streamline, after all this Boro’ council is, I am told, one of the largest geographical sized in the country with 62 elected ward members. The Boro Council of course holds the budgets and controls the spend for the area, less time consuming but with a portfolio holder (elected) making the final decisions.

Now everybody with concerns about the Spinney should know about these systems, they should know that, he, the portfolio holder, is looking for the least amount of aggravation, he would love it if we could all say yes to one project. He would like consensus or at least a substantial majority. That is why we go through the consultancy program, so that he can say ‘I have agreement’ from the majority, and that those in the minority are heard, considered and then if possible put into the compromise..
The situation here is that the consultants, who were selected by an independent group of local people from over 20 candidate companies, have been bombarded with so many extremes, that they have, I believe, been obliged to ‘take the middle ground’ and then substantiate it. In my view it is a beautiful design that fulfils most if not all of the criteria originally specified by the responsible officer (a salaried professional) who has no local bias or hidden agenda. Certainly my only reservation is that the design appears so good that it may go over budget, something I have already protested. I am assured that the design will be completed on time and within budget; believe me I am watching this situation very closely.

As always I welcome your opinions, please contact me in the normal way. Tel: 01485 532565 E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Question: what do you call 100 local politicians at the bottom of the North Sea? Answer: A good start.

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