Barlow's Beef: Surely it's time we gave independents an opportunity?

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Do you remember the withdrawal of community bobbies following the 'police officers on the street don't catch criminals' mantra of the early 80s? You will recall the nationwide eruption of anti-social behaviour that followed.

Around that time our government decreed that diesel powered cars were so enormously better for the environment that we were given cash incentives to switch from petrol.

Having made the switch we have been duly penalised for that decision in the rising cost of diesel fuel now considered to be extremely damaging to the eco system.

In the 1960's politicians decreed high-rise living was the answer to all our housing problems. Neighbourhoods that had survived for 100 years were razed and replaced by multi story monstrosities many of which were demolished in 15.

Then came the right-to buy policy of the Thatcher government subsequently endorsed by the Blair administration seeing it as its mission not to ensure affordable rents for working people but to help them get a foot on the property ladder. This is what I wrote about the sale of council houses in 2005:

MBC Housing sale bigger trick than David Blane

It's a miracle. In an era when house prices have rocketed by 300 percent houses owned by Macclesfield Borough Council have actually devalued and are now almost worthless. David Blane could not have performed a more sensational disappearing act. In the same location where untouched two-bedroom terrace houses are fetching over £100K MBC's houses are valued at £3,600 a piece.

Four years ago everything was hunky-dory with the council boasting of their proud record in providing decent housing. Then they decided they wanted to rid themselves of the entire housing stock and spent £109K on a survey to prove how abysmal the borough's council houses really were and surprise surprise the survey confirmed the houses are worse than anyone imagined. In fact every single council house needs no less than £48K of repairs to prevent it crumbling to dust.

The stupefying total needed to repair the borough's housing stock is £250M. Considering the council own the land that's probably enough to rebuild every single house from scratch.

Now, forgive me for saying so but isn't it just a mite odd that these amazing 'facts' just happen to have surfaced just before council tenants vote on the sale of their homes to a private landlord?

Why, if I didn't know better I'd say someone in the town hall was trying to rig the vote.

Now here we are in 2017 with no housing stock and politicians of all parties insisting we destroy the greenbelt to satisfy the need for affordable homes when in reality those are the very homes that will NOT be built.

There's a clear pattern here of political dogma taking precedence over public opinion and common sense only to be discredited by subsequent events.

Thanks to the tenacity of Handforth residents the so-called Farm Village will NOT be excluded from the Neighbourhood Plan as CEC insisted. For once residents will have their say.

If we have learned anything from any of the above it is our need for politicians who respect and truly represent our views.

Surely it's time we gave Independents an opportunity to speak on our behalf.

Ask yourself this question: Could they do any worse?

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of wilmslow.co.uk.

Tags:
Barlows Beef, Vic Barlow
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Comments

Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below.

Nick Jones
Tuesday 7th March 2017 at 9:47 am
@ Vic; valid point, MARTIN BELL... More integrity than the elected representative both Then and Now ! ...
Admittedly he was a lone voice in Parliament.. but he did represent the electorate.

Have you ever considered taking a stand ??
Stuart Kinsey
Tuesday 7th March 2017 at 10:53 pm
Brilliant Vic! Thank you. I repeat Nick Jones' question ... How about it?
Vic Barlow
Wednesday 8th March 2017 at 2:33 pm
I believe there are far better candidates than me.
I am doing my bit in the political sphere as a commentator.
Manuel Golding
Wednesday 8th March 2017 at 6:22 pm
Congratulations to the voters of Bollington in electing a further independent CE councillor.
We in Wilmslow have made a start. Residents of Wilmslow (RoW) is an independent group of residents concerned with the way CEC has consistently chosen to ignore the expressed concerns of very many locals.
RoW is apolitical and as such we do not require our elected councillors to vote with a "party line" - we only require that they have the major grasp of the views of their respective electorate. Unlike party sponsored opposition councillors, be they Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem etc, who are required to vote as their local party demands, RoW trusts its councillors to act & vote on behalf of the electorate. In case anybody does not understand the meaning of "independent" in this context, it quite simply means such councillors are indeed independent of any party policy. RoW does not have a "party line", all we ask is that our councillors act entirely for their voters, not for a party. We have seen this all to often with elected party candidates.
Thus with the independent councillors of Bollington & Alderley - no party whips to obey for these independents but for those on a party ticket there are consequences should they disregard the whips. Such is the nature of the party's voting fodder. Having witnessed such councillors voting for their whip's demands, ignoring public opinion, RoW believe such issues must be highlighted and placed in the full glare of the public spotlight.
RoW started the process in Wilmslow with one CE councillor, Toni Fox (Dean Row) and two WT councillors, David Jefferay & Mark Goldsmith (Wlm East).
As Stuart Kinsey rightly asks of Wilmslow folk, how about YOU talking to RoW (in confidence)?
Nick Jones
Wednesday 8th March 2017 at 7:25 pm
@ Manuel, What a refreshing (and now proven) concept... An independent elected representative who does exactly "what it says on the tin"... Represents the electorate !...

Not asleep on their watch, Not under law enforcement investigation (core fit), Good with basic Maths & understands that wasting the electorates taxes is not saving. And dont promise to protect the green belt in one breath and in the next vote to remove its protection.

It strikes me Residents of Wilmslow (As you have explained ) would be the answer to many peoples frustrations against the disingenuous. Alderely Edge First are already doing a sterling job 1 train station stop down the line !
Angela McPake
Wednesday 8th March 2017 at 7:31 pm
Manuel, out of interest, what was the last WTC decision where the conservative members were told how to vote by either the party or anyone else?

We aren't subject to a party whip and, as residents of Wilmslow ourselves make decisions based on what we believe is the right thing for the town. A place we are all passionate about.

I resent your implication that we would do anything different.

Cllr Angela McPake
Paul Hampton
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 7:02 am
My reservations over so-called independent councillors is the risk of being primarily driven by a single issue or (self) interest, to the detriment of managing the bigger picture.
Roger Bagguley
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 9:21 am
Angela

Even though WTC can be seen to represent the people of Wilmslow on many counts party loyalties do surface. I felt at one planning meeting last year you spoke to favouring the application only to vote against. Your body language gave it away. You voted late with a reluctant hand up, elbow on the table. I, on behalf of RoW, spoke in favour of a plan to develop a brown site within the Green Belt, thus reducing the need to develop the Green Belt itself.

What Manuel and all of the RoW people are getting at is the behaviour of the Conservative Ward Councillors who have all, with the exception of Ellie Brooks, voted in support of a Local Plan at various key points in the process, only to turn up in the end to object in the eyes of their public to something they have already approved.

There are one or two of you on WTC who I rather fancy could make a very good job of being indepenent councillors at Ward level. Why not?
Jackie Pass
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 9:52 am
Paul - you are making an assumption that "the bigger picture" can be achieved through the existing parties and set - up. What is this "bigger picture" that Cheshire East has? As far as I can see the Local Plan is driven by the needs of the Local Area Partnership - that shadowy, unelected body which sits there in the background away from prying eyes pontificating on where they want houses and industry to be, irrespective of the needs of individual communities.

The "bigger picture" includes education - Independents in Handforth, Wilmslow and Alderley have all contributed to that debate and know, at first hand, the problems locally.

The "bigger picture" includes "social needs" - again Independents know and speak out about the problems of local hospitals, doctors etc. I am not a councillor, and I speak as I find things. I spoke out yesterday at a planning meeting because a local house builder had put in revised
plans to reduce the size of its bungalows for the elderly to less than a post- war prefab. I was the sole objector as others groups in the community were prepared to just wave it through, all, no doubt, in the interest of the "bigger picture".
Vic Barlow
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 11:02 am
Mmm..'the bigger picture.'
Now there's a nice handy phrase to trot out whenever local residents object.
Along with 'transparency' that is anything but transparant and 'we're all in this together' the reality of which is you take the pain we take the gain should be consigned to the idiot box where it belongs.
Cheshire East have several volumes of these meaningless phrases which they use liberally especially when all stakeholders are engaging in best practice.
Seems like we need more of Mr Pass' common sense and less pretentious waffle.
(Just trying to synchronise my silos to establish my sense of place)
Manuel Golding
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 11:39 am
Angela, I appreciate your response BUT I can clearly recall one occasion, before your time on WTC but which has certainly framed the "we must follow" attitude of the Conservatives on WTC. One example immediately springs to mind - Royal London's desire to development it's Green Belt site for housing, office extension(s) and a high rise hotel. RoW was and is strongly against any such developments on that company's green belt (RoW had previously publicised the current & projected build figures showing this development was & is not needed).
WTC's Conservatives supported the development of office extension(s) & hotel, i.e. commercial development, on the Green Belt. RoW attempted to point out that any development of the site would be a Trojan horse into the Green Belt, setting a precedent for the whole site. WTC continued to ignore RoW, preferring to go along with their Conservative compatriots on CEC & with that council's planners.
Only later did the penny drop for WTC. Then followed a "get out of jail", or was it a "smoke & mirrors", strategy by the WTC Conservatives, firstly and incorrectly claiming that it was "always" opposed to any & all Green Belt development at RL and secondly, not state it was following RoWs stance.
You prove my point Angela, Wilmslow desperately needs councillors who stand up for Wilmslow, both at WT and CE level, and not taking on the party-line of the day.
RoW councillors examine each policy aspect in the light of "what is best" for Wilmslow's voters, not what is best for "the party".
Mark Goldsmith
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 12:45 pm
@Paul Hampton: As one of two independent Residents of Wilmslow (RoW) councilors on Wilmslow Town Council, I can assure you we do not just focus on planning issues.

Currently RoW is campaigning to resolve parking issues for Leaside Way residents and I am also working to revamp the WTC web site. Both these issues would not happen without an independent voice on the council.

While the Conservative councilors on WTC may not be strong armed on local policy, they are reluctant to openly criticise Cheshire East though. To do so would damage their party image, so they keep their concerns private. Therefore, it is up to us independents to publicise when CE fails Wilmslow and to hold them to account for their (all too frequent) broken promises to the town.

Ultimately, we just want what is best for Wilmslow and its residents. Not what is best for the UK, the North West, Cheshire East, the government or any political party "big picture" stuff. Instead we just concentrate 100% on doing the right thing for our town, a concept that is growing in popularity with our residents.

Cllr Mark Goldsmith
Manuel Golding
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 1:37 pm
Re Paul Hampton's misguided assumption that RoWs councillors, totally independent of all and any party's policy, are at " risk of being primarily driven by a single issue or (self) interest, to the detriment of managing the bigger picture."
Sorry, but you have it all wrong, either deliberately so or by misunderstanding RoW's raison d'etre. The precise reason is that we have over decades been led to believe our councillors act in our interests but on so many issues we have found, to our shock. this is too often not the case. Cheshire East's Conservatives are a prime example.
RoW, whilst it started out as a concerned group over the Green Belt ravages, we have found our councillors and officers being called upon for help with a vast number of elector concerns. Concerns that the Conservatives too easily dismiss or ignore or simply spout council officers "solutions".
The "bigger picture" that Mr. Hampton refers has for too long been ignored if it was not the Council's definition of the "bigger picture".
RoW is certainly looking very closely indeed at the bigger picture as it affects Wilmslow and our neighbours.
Watch this space!
Paul Hampton
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 2:31 pm
Carefully read my post and you will understand that I have given a general viewpoint of the 'risk' of independents becoming fixated on a single issue or interest at the expense of the wider picture. For example the closure of a local hospital, the building of houses or construction of a new road.

I have not suggested this is case here in Wilmslow.

Keep up the good work.
Bob Bracegirdle
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 3:36 pm
Always easy to comment on Council activities or lack of them. Always much harder to actually take part and do something about problems. It is never simple even at parish level.
Jackie Pass
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 4:20 pm
Bob - agree - nothing is simple, but that should not stop people trying. I admire the commitment Councillors put in at parish level -they are unpaid. However, Cheshire East Councillors are paid, with many clocking up additional sums as Directors of various Alternative Service Delivery Vehicles - those Companies, owned by Cheshire East, that do their job for them but without the transparency.
Roger Bagguley
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 5:48 pm
A valid and welcome correction Paul and thanks for encouraging the independent mission for Wilmslow. Today, a resident has written to Row asking for advice as her hedge has been butchered, the one she has been carefully maintaining in preparation for developers moving in on the currently Green Belt land next door. On my way home this afternoon I called into Leaside re the parking issue Mark refers to and to explain to some residents that I have so far not made any progress re their problems with trees overhanging gardens as CEC has not replied to my request for help. There are 4 problematic planning applications sitting on my desk with residents hoping RoW can work some magic in having them refused. One goes to appeal. Another is now with the Ombudsman and yet another on its way there. Recently our Indepenent councillors assisted residents at Davenport Green to have their voices heard re the school crossing. As Independent Ward Councillor for Dean Row, Toni Fox is consistently challenging CEC in representing her people across the entire spectrum of business coming her way. All three of the Independents are backed by the work of the RoW team. When we took on the mantle of representing the people of Wilmslow in their bid to protect the Green Belt we did not know we would end up winning 5 out of 6 elections and become embroiled in the workings of WTC and Cheshire East Borough Council. All good fun but boy have we had to put in some work and boy have we had to get on a steep learning curve.

It is a case of thanking big time our growing band of RoW supporters and pledging continuing hard work in challenging the system when it does not suit the people of Wilmslow. I want to be able to vote Independent next time round so let's have some people stepping up to the plate.
Nick Jones
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 9:03 pm
Perhaps one of our elected representatives would like to explain to our benefit why they voted not to protect the green belt ? After all they read these pages and are already too willing to make twee comments about minor issues ...
Stuart Redgard
Thursday 9th March 2017 at 11:48 pm
I stood as an "independent" candidate several years ago for the Lacey Green Ward vacancy on WTC.

http://bit.ly/2m7UbAk

I can confirm the following.

The “electoral system (law)” that we use in the UK, even at parish level, in my opinion, is set up based on candidates being members of a political party. If you are not a candidate of a registered political party, then you are at a disadvantage from the very beginning of the process.

All of the financial expenditure for my candidacy was met out of my own personal pocket. (Approx £90 spent on leaflets). None of it was paid for by a political party. All of the leaflets (about 1500) were distributed by myself and three friends, not by party activists.

I stood because I wanted the electorate of Lacey Green to have a choice over who should be their councillor. If I had not stood then there would not have been an election and the councillors of WTC would have been able to nominate and appoint their own choice as ward counsellor for Lacey Green.

What was interesting was the attitude of one of the then WTC Conservative counsellors towards my candidacy. They told me quite forthrightly that by standing I had cost WTC £3000. That is the fee CEC charges for administering a parish ward election. My thoughts at the time were, "that is the financial cost of democracy. For some people it has cost them their lives to protect democracy'.

http://bit.ly/2n551eN

I have respect for all people who give their time and experience to serve as councillors at any level of Local Government, but especially those on WTC. that's because they do it without being paid a salary or allowance and to date without even claiming expenses. The one exception being the Chair person who can if they wish claim an allowance due to the extra number of external bodies and functions that they are invited to attend, too represent the people of Wilmslow.

To date I haven’t witnessed any “Party Whip” being used by the Conservative Group on WTC. But I do tend to agree that there appears to have been on some occasions, a desire to not want to “rock the boat” with their fellow party members who serve as Councillors at Borough level.

I did think about standing as an independent candidate for the Tatton constituency in the May 2015 general election, but after discussing this with friends decided not to. If any kind hearted individual wants to stump up the estimated £15,000 to fund my candidacy for the Tatton Constituency at the next General Election then I would be happy to talk to them.

And finally did any of you hear the news on this mornings edition of the “Today Programme” on Radio 4 this morning.

The former Chancellor George Osborne has made a declaration in the House of Commons register of members interests, that he will receive a payment of £650,000 a year for working on a part time basis as an advisor to the worlds largest investment fund manager, Black Rock. He expects that it will be for an average of 4 days a month.
http://bit.ly/2nbIaee
Great scoop Lisa.
Jackie Pass
Friday 10th March 2017 at 10:23 am
Stuart, - I had no idea who the Lacey Green Cheshire East Councillor was until informed by comments on this website and looked him up. Apparently he is "Regeneration Portfolio Holder" at Cheshire East and his correspondence address is through his PA.
Manuel Golding
Friday 10th March 2017 at 11:25 am
May I add to Stuart Redgard's WTC election experience and confirm RoW received the very same "democratic" response from a then WT Conservative councillor.

When RoW won a fairly recent by-election a Conservative councillor castigated RoWs winning candidate for having the audacity to stand against the Conservative Party's candidate - at a cost to the taxpayers of several thousand pounds.

Of course we could have quite easily have countered if the Conservatives hadn't stood we could have saved the very same thousands of pounds! What is good for the goose........

These two electoral examples clearly illustrates the arrogance, the hypocrisy, the contempt and the Lord given Right of the Cheshire Conservatives towards the electorate and the democratic process.

Even more great reasons for electing many more RoW (Independent) candidates next time at the ballot box
Pete Taylor
Friday 10th March 2017 at 12:15 pm
You can find info on your CEC "representatives" here: http://bit.ly/2mIzGNQ

By following the sometimes labyrinthine links you can also see how they have voted in your name (except for when it's a secret)! You can also see how many times they have attended and how much they have claimed in expenses and "Directorship" payments.

All of our Conservative "representives" have voted against keeping the Green Belt around Wilmslow, Alderley and Handforth, more than once with, I think, only one abstention, after the heat was turned up by RoW and other like-minded people. This after the overwhelming responses to the Wilmslow Vision and subsequent consultations.

What is absolutely incredible is that former leader Michael Jones is still sitting as a Councillor for Bunbury (how is the legal investigation going, I wonder). Also incredible is that when found to have been totally incompetent and having cost the tax-payers millions, it is somehow acceptable merely to stand down from the Cabinet, rather than resign from the Council.
David Jefferay
Friday 10th March 2017 at 3:05 pm
Hi folks,
I'm also an independent councillor on Wilmslow town council so thought I'd put my two-penneth in.
Regarding Wilmslow Town Council, some low level politics goes on within the town council but, in my few years on the town council, I can think of very few circumstances where the Conservative councillors may have had a conflict of interest which could have potentially caused them to go against what they believe is best for Wilmslow and side with the party. The issues we deal with are just not political. The only situation of any note I can think of is the way in which WTC respond in consultations on the local plan. However, in recent consultations, I believe Wtc has issued really quite robust statements criticising the Conservative lead CEC which suggests to me that they are not afraid to go against the party at Cheshire East. Some people (including myself) may have been even more robust but I don't believe that's down to an underlying political agenda. It may have been different in the past where Wtc was more likely to pull its punches but I can only speak of my experience and the Conservative councillors I have worked with.

My perception (and experience) of Cheshire East council is somewhat different though. I have only been to one CEC meeting (when they were voting on the local plan last year) but I was shocked (disgusted would also not be too strong a word though) at how the voting was so divided between party lines. The members appeared to vote not on whether the proposed amendments were good ideas (the voting patterns would have been mixed across both sides of the room if that was the case) but by parties. It was very clear that members were not voting in accordance with their conscience or what was the best interests of the residents. In my opinion that is wrong and they are letting down the people who voted for them.

I should clarify that that criticism is not just aimed at the Conservative members of CEC though (both sides of the room were equally bad) but my criticism does include some of our Wilmslow CEC councillors. My opinion is that it was weak of them to go against clear public opinion and vote to approve the plan.

So, in my opinion, the answer to Vic's question is yes we should give independents the opportunity to represent us. However, we can't vote for people unless they stand and in the past few elections there haven't been many of us willing to step forward.

If anyone is interested in getting involved, please do get in touch with Residents of Wilmslow because we will be putting forward more candidates in the future and you'll get the advice and support you need.

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