In the wake of the LET’S MAKE THE CREEK WORK FOR FAVERSHAM exhibition, organised by BMM Weston, the Brents Community Association (BCA) and the Faversham Creek Trust, steps have been taken to kick the BCA and the Trust off the Neighbourhood Plan steering group.
The proposal was made by the new Mayor, Nigel Kay, in a discussion of membership of council committees at the Faversham Town Council meeting on 2 June. Cllr Abram agreed, saying “You’re either with us or against us and if you’re against then you should drop out.” (He did not explain who he considered to be “us”, or whether he thought this principle should be extended to the whole council.)
Two councillors disagreed, including Andy Culham, who reportedly said: “I thought we were in some sort of madhouse and I’m really disappointed in some of the councillors. You can’t just kick someone off a committee because they don’t have the same opinion as you. Instead of trying to alienate them, they should be trying to utilise their skills.”
A decision was deferred until the next meeting.
On 4 June, at the Neighbourhood Plan steering group meeting, Mr Kay (who is also chair of the group) again raised the matter and, after a somewhat confusing set of resolutions and amendments, the BCA and Creek Trust members were excluded from the meeting and sent to sit on the naughty step. It was said that their membership would be reconsidered following a private meeting with Mr Kay.
When Chris Wright (who, as chair of the Trust, would have to be party to such a meeting) asked for more details, he was told he was not allowed to speak from the floor. Similarly, the BCA and Creek Trust representatives were prevented from speaking and told they were out of order. Angie Simmons, chair of the BCA, was very discourteously interrupted when she attempted to speak.
No justification was given for any of this. Neither the Trust nor the BCA was in breach of the steering group’s Terms of Reference, which state: “The role of the Steering Group will be to manage and guide the development of the Neighbourhood Plan and to assist with community engagement. It will be the responsibility of the Steering Group members to report back to their constituent bodies for scrutiny and comment on the content of the Plan as it progresses.”
This is not the first time that a dominant clique within the group has sought to get rid of an inconvenient member, even though there is nothing in the terms of reference that restricts members’ rights to disagree or to express their disagreement. As Angie Simmons attempted to point out, before she was so rudely interrupted, this is not supposed to be Cabinet government, nor should it be subject to a three-line whip. On the contrary, the development of a Neighbourhood Plan should include a broad spectrum of opinion from right across the community, as is the case in virtually every other Neighbourhood Plan area in the country.
Commenting on the decision, Sue Akhurst, the Creek Trust’s steering group representative, said that she and the BCA rep, Brenda Chester, had both scrupulously followed the terms of reference, reporting to their constituent bodies and bringing their comments back to the group, and engaging in community engagement. She also said that both organisations, like all other members, were entitled to pursue their own interests and conduct their own activities outside the group and this should have no bearing on their membership.
Brenda Chester pointed out that, having excluded alternative options from the draft Neighbourhood Plan, both Nigel Kay and the former mayor, David Simmons, had said that alternative proposals would be invited as part of the consultation process, and that the LET’S MAKE THE CREEK WORK FOR FAVERSHAM exhibition was a response to that invitation. The groups involved had decided that, rather than simply putting forward their own ideas to the steering group yet again, they would first test them by engaging the public, and perhaps even flush out other good ideas that no-one else had yet thought of.
After the close of the meeting, Roger Ely (a member of the Creek Trust) invited all the steering group members, most of whom had not attended the LET’S MAKE THE CREEK WORK FOR FAVERSHAM exhibition at the Alexander Centre, to go and see it at the Purifier Building, so they would know what they were talking about.
The exhibition is on at the Purifier Building, Morrisons Wharf, every Saturday in June from 10am to 1pm.