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Town Council Watch: August Meeting

Local Democracy Sketch

Jimmy Young Published: 01 September 2023

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Town council building with marrow, hotwater bottle and a gold bus stop

August 1st and Wymondham Town Council met for its third full council meeting of the year, with the first real new pieces of business on the agenda since local elections back in May returned largely new councillors.

The meeting began on a sombre note, with councillors observing a minute’s silence in memory of Cllr Julian Halls, who had died suddenly two weeks prior. Town and district councillors present gave short, and at times moved, tributes to the South Wymondham representative.

An agenda item to note the new town councillor vacancy in Mr Halls' ward was a cold and harsh reminder that the business of local government must continue. The meeting continued.

Interrogator In Chief

We quickly settled back into a now-familiar rhythm of Cllr Tony Holden (Con) spending early parts of the meeting rattling off reams of questions about ongoing council business, from a stalled CCTV project he said could have prevented recent vandalism to the town centre public toilets, to renewing the town-council funded Town Coordinator's contract.

After a ticking off from Mayor Nuri-Nixon (Lib Dem) about the volume of questions on the same topic, the North Wymondham member did have something to say in his defence:

"I do realise I might be a thorn in your side but I am one of the longest-serving councillors, so I do have more in-depth knowledge, so perhaps it's one of the reasons I speak a bit more than maybe people want."

"Can I have your question?" came the Mayor's icy retort.

These two are fooling no one. We all know they're best mates behind the scenes.

We did get some useful insights out of the questions though.

There had been a meeting between at least the Mayor, Clerk and officers at South Norfolk District Council to discuss a mooted joint £1 million investment into improvements to the town centre. South Norfolk's leader John Fuller had once again put that offer on the table at their recent full council meeting.

Now there's an idea: 'District Council Watch'. No. This thing takes me long enough on its own.

Bean Spiller In Chief

We also heard from the Clerk that an audit produced by the Town Coordinator into how the town is marketed to visitors and residents, was to remain confidential. We, the public, had been allowed to see one excerpt of the top-secret dossier, when the council's Leisure, Environment, Enterprise & Tourism committee had approved the paid staff member's idea of creating a 'Visit Wymondham' website, earlier in the month.

But with the report seemingly potentially containing more hot potatoes than the Courtyard Cafe's oven at lunchtime, it was crucial that loose lips didn't spill any of the other ideas in there. Enter Deputy Mayor Cllr Annette James (Lib Dem) discussing the new website:

"If you look at the recommendations she made", she said of the report, "for example a Visit Wymondham loyalty card, you'd sign up for it on a website. An art trail... would be advertised on a Visit Wymondham website."

Loyalty card? Art trail? We'd better hope no one spills those ideas from the confidential report. Hang on...

No Froth Over Roth

With the council having previously endorsed Greening Wymondham’s proposed design for an all-natural revamp of Rothbury Road park, a paper submitted by Paul Barrett (Green) looked to start sorting out the all-important cash to pay for it.

It proposed transferring £20k from a number of other reserves including Play Site Safety into a dedicated fund, with the hope of attracting more funding from other bodies to the tune of £250,000.

Perhaps wary of other historical occasions when the Town Council has raided transferred money from other pots, Cllr Michael Rosen (Lab) wanted an amendment to have the council's Finance Committee first look at what the impact would be of using money earmarked for other purposes:

"I don't consider the report that's been provided to the council to contain any adequate supporting information around the source of the funds...I've got some serious concerns about financial management decision making on this council at the moment."

Join the club, chief.

The amendment was accepted and the council agreed to find £20k from somewhere, once the Finance Committee had given it the all clear.

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot Cold

We then came to a proposal from father and son duo Paul and Joe Barrett (Green) on the subject of climate change. They wanted the Town Council to declare a ‘Climate Emergency’. And to facilitate a new group of councillors and residents to come up with a ‘Climate Emergency Strategy’. And to make climate change core to every committee’s decision making. And to ask for more powers for the Town Council from district, county and central government.

A little unambitious for a parish council I think you’ll agree. I’d have thrown in solving world hunger and sorting out Wymondham’s asteroid defences too.

Introducing the proposal, Mr Barrett (the younger) said he hoped it'd be "a catalyst for change in Wymondham towards carbon neutrality. So although it's the Town Council declaring an emergency, it's on behalf of the people of Wymondham."

A member of the public invoked the historic significance of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in imploring the Town Council to make 1st August 2023 "an historic day for the people of Wymondham".

TCW will always remember where he was on this day. At home, watching on YouTube, drinking Carlsberg. Humbling.

But if anyone wasn’t fully awake to the seriousness of the situation facing the planet, Cllr Lucy Nixon (Lib Dem) had some cold, hard science that would jolt even the most hardened climate-sceptic into action:

“This summer, it's so cold, some of us are wearing fleecy jumpers in the office”, she reported. “There's been more than one night I've had a hot water bottle this month.”

The worrying times we live in. Tell your kids you love them everyone.

And things had got worse for the keen North Wymondham fruit and veg grower: "this year, spring and summer together have been so cold and grey that my crops are failing to grow".

TCW has sent this valuable data over to the UEA for their boffins to pore over.

Councillors round the table were broadly behind the proposal’s sentiments but did voice concerns about the implications of some of the specifics.

Cllr Todd Baker (Lab) “absolutely support[ed] the principle” behind the motion but he did point out the council was “at risk of creating a talking shop, where we discuss lots of ideas about what we should do, but without actually having the ability to action change”.

Someone's been reading the Wymondham Town Council mission statement clearly.

The Central Wymondham representative then tabled an amendment to ensure any climate change related measures “do not create additional financial burdens on residents”, which was rejected.

Cllr Tony Holden described climate change as being “fairly obvious to everybody” but was less-than-enthusiastic about declaring an emergency: “What does it actually achieve, apart from the fact that it sounds good?” “It’s great words. Lovely words. But it actually doesn’t do anything.” “If you’d just said in this proposal what you want to do is put solar panels on this roof, I'd be all for it.”

But for Cllr Roly Frosdick (Lib Dem), the lack of substantial actions in the proposal might have been part of the appeal. He warned against “get[ting] into a spiral of ‘let’s create some actions for the sake of it’” “we as a council want to say to the people of Wymondham, look, we are taking this seriously. We need your input.”

And his Mayor, Suzanne Nuri-Nixon was in agreement: "I just think the time for procrastinating on this has long gone. We see on telly all the time, you know, wildfires in Europe and Canada, America affected whatever. In our little small town in Norfolk, let's see if we can actually make a difference".

Before joining his Labour colleagues in abstaining on the whole motion, Todd Baker summed up: “I do think it’s important going forward, we don’t see ourselves as a council of just principles and statements. But of practical solutions.”

The motion was passed via all Lib Dems and Greens present voting for it. Labour abstained. The Conservative voted against.

No grants for free hot water bottles were awarded.

The Bus Stop Of Your Dreams

With the world now on its way to being saved, councillors next unanimously gave their approval for Norfolk County Council’s intention to build a so-called ‘gold standard bus stop’ in the town centre, which Cllr Michael Rosen pithily heralded as “a more attractive environment for people to wait for a bus.”

'Gold standard bus stop'. It’s the holy grail of bus stops, this. A real cathedral of bus-stoppery. It’ll have a roof and everything.

And if that wasn’t enough transport excitement for one month, Mayor Nuri-Nixon had “been to the A11 today, to look at the road. It sounds a bit boring…”

No no. Please continue.

“But actually it was very, very interesting and they’ve done quite an amazing job.”

And the Road Appreciation Society weren’t finished, as Cllr Kevin Hurn (Con) giving his District Council update added: “Likewise, when I was Mayor, I had a tour through the roadworks and it was absolutely fascinating to see the processes.”

Well if it's that good, TCW might have to get down there himself. I've run out of things to keep my 2 and 5-year olds occupied.

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