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The Council Debates Road Safety, Democracy and Another Big Development

October 10th 2012

Bridge Street junction

Bridge Street junction

Grimsby Road junction

Grimsby Road junction

St Mary's Lane

Location of a fatality in 1993

I suppose these things shouldn't surprise me any more, but the low turnout from the public at Tuesday night's town council meeting was unexpected considering what was on the agenda. HJW Developments want to erect 35 buildings on Keddington Road, on land near Keddington House. That's 29 houses and 6 bungalows right next to the playing fields. Although it's not as large as the proposed Fulmar Drive development it's had around 24 written objections from neighbours. And by low turnout, I mean no-one from the public came to talk specifically about this issue.

Traffic dangers

My brother, Dan Jackson, did come to address the council about traffic issues for pedestrians. "There are an awful lot of dangerous roads to cross," he told them. "Around the (St James) church is a nightmare crossing, every which way is bad. We've had a few near misses ever since school started a month ago. Can we get some improvements?"

The Mayor Jill Makinson-Sanders said "these are points well made."

Councillor Pauline Watson also agreed. "I totally agree with Mr Jackson, I do think we need to look at this again as traffic increases."

Councillor Laura Stephenson mentioned the problem of vegetation overgrowth which can cause hazards, and the need to get them cut back. "We need to get highways to enforce all of these."

I asked the Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership for further details: St Mary's Lane outside the cemetery was the scene of a fatal traffic accident in 1993. Meanwhile there have been three accidents in the past five years at the junction between St Mary's Lane and the Grimsby Road, and another three around the Bridge Street traffic lights within the same timeframe.

Congratulations

The Mayor's remarks included quite a lot of good news. A new Women's Institute style group, punningly called The Rolling Scones, will be meeting on the first Friday of the month (although I'm not sure where). The Mayor also praised two new investments, the 6 million Wolds Care Centre and 3/4 million conference centre extension to the Brackenborough hotel. She also had praise for the cricketer Arran Brindle for her achievement in getting to the World T20 final against Australia. Councillor Trevor Marris was also singled out for praise for winning two Leader Champions awards. Councillor Marris said "thank you to everybody who supported me for the past 30 years."

This self-congratulation is all very well (and expected of public figures), but some of the awards Louth has won recently caused some councillors to voice concerns.

"Have we scored an own goal?" Councillor Watson asked. "Just because we've won doesn't mean we don't need anything."

Speaking on the topic of tourism, Councillor Andrew Leonard agreed. "We don't want complacency," he said.

Democracy under threat

East Lindsey is due for a review of its council size, and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England wants to reduce the number of councillors from 60 to 55. This led to a lively debate, beginning with a discussion about who actually attends council meetings.

Councillor Brian Burnett said "attendance and people who volunteer for scrutiny panels should be public knowledge. Certainly some councillors work a lot harder than others."

However Councillor Watson criticised the cost of this move. "For a change of five councillors it's an absolute waste of money."

Councillor George Horton pointed out that it's about more than the numbers of voters. "East Lindsey is one of the largest areas, and constituents are spread far and wide," he said. "People deserve representation. I think 60 is the right amount."

Councillor Leonard disagreed, in what I'm starting to think of as his characteristically maverick fashion. "I'd cut it down to 30. I think ELDC is an expensive middle man."

"The more representatives you have, the more likely you are to have a healthy democracy," Councillor Roger Featherstone said.

One of the problems with East Lindsey is the number of people who aren't registered to vote, but who may still need representation. Councillor Burnett said "officially the population of East Lindsey is around 140 to 141, 000. But there are people in caravans on the coast. We're a tourism authority."

If you feel strongly about this issue, have your say on the consultation portal. The initial public consultation is only open until the 15th October, but it will be followed by others about the number, names and boundaries of electoral wards in the district.

Still on the subject of representation, Councillor Stephenson put forward a proposal for councillor surgeries, to be held on one weekday morning and one evening a month. This would offer residents a chance to come in and have a chat to a councillor about any issues they have.

This suggestion was shot down by Councillor Eileen Ballard. "I think it's a ridiculous idea," she said, citing the potential for politicisation. Councillor Leonard was also "vehemently against" it, for the same reason. "We can't have one person as the face of this town council.

Councillor Horton was also against the proposal. "If I wanted people to see me I would have a surgery in my ward. We have a 15 minute opportunity prior to any council meeting."

However Councillor Neil Ward spoke in favour of it, justifying it in terms of lessening the load on the town clerks.

Councillor Stephenson said "some people are put off speaking in front of a large group. Most people would rather speak to an individual."

However it was not to be: the proposal went to a recorded vote, and by 8 votes to 5 with 2 abstentions the town council decided not to go ahead with surgeries. Personally, going by the interest people have in attending regular meetings, I think the council has simply avoided having someone sit and twiddle their thumbs for four hours a month. And this, of course, is the real reason our democracy is under threat: not because of any boundary changes or lack of surgeries, but because people don't realise local democracy belongs to them and it matters.

Keddington Road houses

Okay, enough soapboxing. One of the biggest decisions of the night concerned the 35 homes on Keddington Road, and it went to a recorded vote. The town council voted to allow this development by nine votes to two with several abstentions. The "no" votes came from Councillors Neil Ward and David Hall.

This isn't the end of the story, however, since ELDC still have to approve the development. Concerns about increases in traffic with this project are similar to those with regard to Fulmar Drive, particularly as a lot of that traffic will end up at the same choke point at the junction between Keddington Road and Newbridge Hill. It will be interesting to see if this planning decision leads to the same level of public outrage that the Fulmar Drive plans have engendered.



 


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