Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Cabinet Last Night

Yesterday evening I attended my first Cabinet meeting, deputising for our group leader. The leaders of both the opposition groups and the independent councillor are all invited to attend, with speaking rights. Also present were five senior Conservatives in the public seats and two members of the public.
The Chair, Leader of the Council John Williams, asked the two members of the public if they wanted to speak and what they wanted to speak on. He explained one or two points from the agenda and then re-arranged the agenda to allow them both to speak early, rather than wait around to speak, which was helpful.
Both members of the public spoke eloquently, calmly and persuasively - and also responded to what cabinet members and officers said in reply. One gentleman talked about 20mph zones which are being introduced and complained about the use of ugly, damaging road humps used to enforce them. The other gentleman spoke about the new Eastern Transport Corridor which has gone way over budget.
They were listened to respectfully, although I don't suppose they got the answers they were looking for.
I spoke about the proposed 20mph zone in the Fitzwilliam Drive area, which was withdrawn from the scheme following public opposition. I was able to point out that the rejection of the scheme was not an objection to 20mph zones per se, but rather a protest vote about the traffic chaos in the Fitzwilliam Drive/Leyburn Road area. I told Cabinet that local residents wanted an end to the traffic jams and chaos outside their front doors before they could be persuaded to approve of a 20mph zone. The Cabinet Member did not respond to this.
I also spoke about the Talking Together roadshow and the poor attendances so far, particularly at the Q&A sessions. I suggested that this might be due to a lack of belief among residents that the Council actually mean what they say and doubts about whether promises will be kept. I pointed out that we had been promised community use of parts of the new PRU building at Rise Carr School, but that gradually these opportunities for community use were being designed out or downgraded. How could people trust the Council to keep its promises?
Cllr McEwan didn't mention Rise Carr, but he repeated his support for the new North Road School to have decent community facilities and offered to meet me to discuss them.
Finally, I spoke about the new waste management contract. Both the leading bids include a commitment to achieve the government's 50% recycling rate, but I suggested that this was too conservative, that we should have been aiming for a much higher rate and a much improved kerbside recycling scheme. I am anxious that the Council does not use the achievement of this Government target as an excuse not to do even more. I also asked whether the Council had consulted the Public Register which holds details of Environment Agency inspections of both the leading bidders. I was told that they hadn't.
My suggestion that the closeness of the two leading bids was such that Full Council should be given a presentation by both companies before a final decision was made was met with a mildly sarcastic comment about the revolutionary nature of this proposal from the Lib Dems. I took that as a "no".
Most of the Conservative Councillors in the public seats were also allowed to speak as often as they wanted to, though one of them may have wished he hadn't when he had to be told to sit down by his own colleagues.
A more entertaining two hours than I had been expecting, mainly due to the interventions from the public seats.


miketually said...

Would a 20mph zone on/around Fitzwilliam Drive not help to deter those people who use it as a rat run? As the "hard" measures to enforce it are already in place, it seems strange to object to it.

Mike Barker said...

What local residents are saying - and Lib Dems surveyed residents at the time about this - is that they have greater priorities than 20mph zones. I believe they would have voted for a 20mph zone, like the other areas in the scheme did, were it not for the fact that they wanted other traffic problems sorted first. They used a "no" vote against this proposal to register their anger at the increased traffic which crawls past their front doors every morning, since all the other access roads onto North Road were closed.
We know that is why they voted no - because they told us.
The problem is not so much the traffic backing up along Fitzwilliam Drive (where there are no houses): it's the traffic that uses Leyburn Rd and Pendleton Road as a rat run and then gets stuck at the mini roundabout at the Fitzwilliam/Leyburn junction.
A 20mph zone wouldn't improve that at all. It's an irrelevance until such time as the rush hour traffic problem is solved.
Short of re-opening the slip road from Thompson Street East on to North Road going towards town, the only other solution we can see would involve changes to the junction of Fitzwilliam and Leyburn. We are talking to the local residents and community policeman about this.

miketually said...

"Short of re-opening the slip road from Thompson Street East on to North Road going towards town"

I'm not sure that would change anything now, as the traffic on North Road into town at peak times is at a standstill. It's a lot worse than it was a couple of years ago when I first started riding that way to work.

There are lots of cars using Leyburn Road as a rat run. I see them turn off Thompson Street on a morning and then see tham again when they're stuck in the queue waiting to get onto North Road as I ride past.

Paul Leake said...

For all the stick from some residents DBC gets for its decision making processes, it sounds like Cabinet is far more open than most of its neighbours, at least in process.

What was the imprudent Tory intervention?