When the planning process for the new North Road Primary School got underway last year, local ward councillors were "kept informed" of progress. We were not invited to be actually involved in the process. However, the school is expressly designed to be a part of the local community, and used by the local community. So we complained about being excluded from the discussions about the facilities in the new school - particularly those which involve community use. Following that, the officers invited us to a couple of meetings, at which Fred and I made strong representations on behalf of the local community.
Grass Street Park, containing a motley collection of old-fashioned play equipment, but well used by local people, was to be swallowed up by the new school. New play equipment was to be installed across the road in a new, albeit smaller, play area in the corner of the new school playing fields. Bear in mind that this is the east side of North Road, an area of tight terraced housing with no other play areas.
At the last meeting we were invited to, the plans clearly showed the new play area in the corner of the school playing field, accessible from St Paul's Terrace.
We heard nothing more until the weekly list of Planning Applications was published on April 18th. North Road Primary was on the list. The following week, Fred and I queued up in the Town Hall to view the plans. Imagine our surprise to find that the play area had been omitted from the plans! Just dropped - completely. No wonder they stopped inviting us to meetings.
That's how things work in Darlington. Ward councillors, at least from the minority parties, are tolerated, so long as they don't rock the boat and have a suitably administration-minded attitude. Whoever took the decision to remove the play area from the final plans did not consult or inform the ward councillors. They knew damn well that we'd object.
It's just so infuriating and frustrating being an opposition ward councillor in Darlington. Even when decisions are taken that directly affect our ward, we are kept in the dark. Officers would have realised that losing that play area would be unacceptable to us. But did they ask, consult or inform? No! Even when they'd made the decision, did they get in touch and say, "Sorry, Councillor, we can't afford to replace the play area, it'll have to go"? No! Not a word.
Maybe they have plans to put it somewhere else, but I wouldn't bet on it. And if they have, why don't they tell us?
Enquiries are ongoing, but at the moment, being an opposition ward councillor in Darlington is like being a mushroom - kept in the dark and fed shit.