9th. November 2011
The Evening Star.
This morning the planning committee of Ipswich Borough Council considered the future of the Golden Key in Woodbridge Road. As I felt that the issue was open to misinterpretation I abstained and it is this action that I wish to explain.
In my time on the committee I have come to respect the robust, open, good natured and essentially non-partisan conduct of our debates. This is the key to the strength of the decision making process and it is born out by the number of appeals that are resolved in favour of the committee’s decisions.
The unhappy effect of a recent canvas of local opinion by the Labour Party has the potential to undermine this strength. It comes about, firstly, because of the doubt that must inevitably fall on our future decisions. This follows from the fact that the survey was conducted under the auspices of the party rather than by ward councillors. Ward members have the right to represent residents and, if appropriate, to speak about their concerns. It does not imply from this that any wider group shares the opinion expressed. In the present case the involvement of the Labour Party opens the result of the survey to the interpretation that it is the considered view of all their supporters and of all of their councillors, whether it is the case or not.
Secondly, and possibly more importantly, is the naming of Tesco as the operator of the store if the application should be approved. It transpires that this misleading information is quite without foundation.
Thirdly, another matter that bears on the security of the result of the survey is the lack of any information about the scope of the survey, the size of the population canvassed and the results of the process. It is open to argument that without this data the process is not a survey at all because it is impossible to verify the statistical significance of the results.
It is but a short step from here to the erroneous view that more (possibly all) planning decisions are open political bias. We have no purchase on the opinions of the general populace. If we, the councillors are to protect the perception, as well as the realty of what we do, we must be like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion. As it is, the standing of the council as a whole and its officers is by inadvertence made less secure. There is no case for a repeat of this action.
For all of the above I felt that I had no option but to abstain; an action that cannot be assumed to reflect my views on the merits of the application.
From Cllr Stewart