There was anger and disarray at the meeting on the revised proposals for the One Core Strategy on 26/6/2012 at Walbottle School.
The shambles started before the meeting even began with the participants having to negotiate through battalions of pupils attending the Schools Summer ball! Some residents have reported that they were unable to get to the meeting as a result of the congestion.
More importantly Council bosses had seriously underestimated the outrage felt by residents and sought to impose a straightjacket on the meeting.
It was clear from the outset that The Council, represented by Councillor Henri Murison, and officers led by Harvey Emms, Director of Planning, have a vision of how consultations should work:
First, Make any notifications to the public as bland and vague as possible so no-one will notice the importance of the issue e.g. Produce the notices to go in libraries, notice boards etc, smaller than A4 size and head them “Lets Talk”.
Second, Stage manage the meeting in such a way as to stifle difficult questions and impose a formula which attempts to divert people from the issues they really want to discuss.
This strategy completely fell apart at Walbottle on Tuesday, where right from the start angry comments were expressed at the imposition of a “workshop” arrangement where people sat at tables with council officer “facilitators” who attempted to frame the discussion along the lines laid out.
Demands for a full open discussion were however rejected by the officers and despite strong opposition from members of the local community, the Murison/Emms show forged on with Harvey Emms droning on in “Planner speak” over a deadening, banal, PowerPoint presentation.
Interestingly, he must have drawn the short straw, since the politicians in the shape of Councillor Murison only once obliged himself to respond to a question from the floor.
After several minutes of Cllr. Murison making much noise but little content, a member of the “audience” pointed out that the amount of time taken up of the 2 hour meeting by such contributions justified the” Let’s Talk” title, only if that meant “Let US talk AT you”.
The mood of the meeting worsened as it went on and can be encapsulated by a resident who vowed “never to vote Labour again” while storming out”.
Residents are justifiably angry that though some sites have been dropped after the first round, no change has been made to the 560 + housing development at Throckley, and minor reductions at Walbottle despite the protests from the village being the third most numerous.
As the caretakers tried to stack the tables at 8.30, a representative from the S.T.O.P. campaign marched to the front with our S.T.O.P. placard and told the meeting that the fight would go on.