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Town Council Watch: Boat Race Special

Local Democracy Sketch

Jimmy Young Published: 01 April 2024

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Overhead shot of people rowing

Fierce, long-standing rivalries. Anticipation. Perspiration. The sweet taste of victory. The agony of failure. It’s said by many to be among the most grueling amateur events in the world.

That’s right, Wymondham Town Council were back once more for their March full council meeting back on the 5th of the month. And it falls to TCW, dressed immaculately in his best blazer and school tie, to cover it all. So slip into your unitard. Listen to your cox. And pull, pull, pull. It’s a Town Council Watch: Boat Race Special.

But can TCW keep this up the whole column, with only a scant knowledge of rowing?

Nice work if you can get it

The council continued to float towards hiring a new full time deputy clerk this month. The role will assist the main town clerk, who must have really been busting a gut of late, to need the help of an extra oarsman.

It makes you tired just thinking about it.

With no opportunities to improve efficiency apparently left in the locker, the council could soon be paying out for an extra £34,800 salary instead. Once you include pensions, tax and expenses, that translates to around £50,000 from the council’s budget every year, according to TCW’s supercomputer.

Or two new playgrounds per year, as some might like to picture it as.

Hiring a deputy clerk is an idea that's largely been brewing behind closed doors via the council’s personnel working group, which meets in private. The full council haven’t had any formal costed proposal to look at yet.

Notes from the reclusive working group’s December meeting merely say “discussion took place” about the new role but stopped short of actually recommending it. By February, they were drafting a job specification for the role, which the full council okayed this month. Now the position is being advertised online.

The casual reader could start to worry that the council has drifted into spending a new £50,000 a year without ever having a discussion of the pros and cons in front of the public.

Interesting point, casual reader. You’re getting good at this.

It’s The Mag Wot Won It

Next up was the main piece of business for the evening. The Town Council would finally be deciding whether or not to contribute its £250,000 share of a deal with South Norfolk Council to invest something in the region of £1 million in town centre improvements.

Lots of the public had turned up to see what would happen. They gathered excitedly on the riverbanks and the bridges.

They must have been tipped off about the important meeting in the local press or something…

Plenty were keen to step up to the megaphone microphone during the public participation section, including Ann Rostron of Greening Wymondham fame:

“Let's be excited about this, not fearful of change.” she implored the crew in front her. “We all have the chance to increase the town's prosperity and make it enjoyable, healthy and sustainable. Let's grasp it with optimism and enthusiasm, the first step on our journey to make our town centre fit for the 21st century.”

An enthusiastic clap broke out among the gathered public.

Ms Rostron was carried aloft and thrown into the river in celebration.

The next member of the public dreamingly invited councillors to picture someone writing a postcard home from an improved Wymondham town centre, by way of inspiration. The public broke into applause once more.

Hmm. That was all a bit much for TCW’s sensibilities but, you know, whatever floats your boat.

Cllr Michael Rosen (Lab) formally introduced the proposal, saying he was “pleased to see we’ve got genuine cross party support”. He then spoke proudly of securing “an extra £50,000 [from South Norfolk], which is specifically to be spent on community engagement.”

The North Wymondham councillor had just got his stroke into a good rhythm, highlighting how long it had taken the new Town Council to make a decision, when he was interrupted:

“I’m going to have to ask you to wind it up please,” the meeting’s chair, Mayor Suzanne Nuri-Nixon (Lib Dem) stuck her oar in.

“Well, this is why I call you the Liberal un-Democrats!” sniffed Mr Rosen.

Boat races at Wymondham Town Council are less the famous light-blue on dark-blue nowadays, more yellow on red.

But if the public had arrived bringing enthusiasm and positivity about improving the town centre, things took a snarky turn when some of the councillors got hold of the rudder. and began their contributions.

The casual reader might even wonder if they weren't that keen on the project generally but had been bounced into it by some clever political manoeuvring, media attention and pressure from the public. If you can't change the outcome, moan about the process.

Casual reader! You're on fire today!

An agitated sounding Cllr Lucy Nixon (Lib Dem) read out a prepared statement defending it taking almost a year for the Town Council to reach a decision:

“There was no written agreement, no proposed contract or any documentation saying that a £250,000 investment from Wymondham Town Council would guarantee a return of £1 million from South Norfolk District Council” she railed.

Cllr Joe Barrett (Green) rattled through an 8-minute party political statement read out at 100 mph, which by the end had one member of the public grunting “cut his mic off!”

The essay offered a personal track and trace of the town centre improvement project’s origins, dwelling repeatedly on the involvement of former Conservative councillor and pet bogeyman Tony Holden.

Next in the crosshairs was a “chronic failure of leadership at South Norfolk Council” and the Central Wymondham councillor knew just who the culprit was: “South Norfolk Council Conservatives have a shockingly sloppy approach!”.

Cllr Roly Frosdick (Lib Dem) seemed untypically hot under the collar: “If it took time I'm sorry about that but South Norfolk shouldn't be so damn impatient!” he spluttered, before demanding: “Come on district councillors! Deliver this right now and say this is a million coming to Wymondham.”

A collection plate was left at the door for the district councillors to empty their pockets.

Wymondham Access Group (WAG), the apolitical accessibility campaign group chaired by Liberal Democrat town and district councillor Dave Roberts, seemed particularly interested in the budgetary machinations over at South Norfolk.

Cllr Paul Barrett (Green) read the statement out on their behalf, making clear the views weren’t his own.

Their chairman sitting round the same table must have had a sore throat. Get well soon Dave.

After briefly acknowledging that the scheme was “a good concept”, the statement veered onto technicalities of the funding deal, talking about the sale of Middleton Street and even “a recent recorded vote at District Council” on the matter.

An impressive ability to track all the political goings on at South Norfolk there. People from WAG should join the council or something!

It fell to Cllr Todd Baker (Lab) to sum up what a lot of the audience might likely have been thinking about the irritable performances on show. The Central Wymondham man was the only town councillor to receive a clap from the public:

“Without wanting to speak for those people who are gathered here, I think few of them, or perhaps none of them, care for the reasons for the delays in the project or the politicking at district level.”

He then praised the high levels of public engagement and hoped they’d continue as the project developed.

The vote passed unanimously and TCW understands a total package of £955,000 on Wymondham town centre has since been approved by South Norfolk.


Town Councillor In Praising Wymondham Magazine Shocker

Some of the final words fell to darling-of-the-TCW-column, Alex Perry (Lab), who had some business-critical updates for the group:

Firstly, Toadwatch had been a huge success and many toads had been saved. But then he had some kind words for a certain high quality community publication:

“I know people have differing opinions on Wymondham Magazine when they cover us,” he laughed.

Can’t imagine what he means by that…

“But they’ve done us a big favour,” he continued. “by really publicising the Spring Festival and the Arts Council events… and offering to do that for free.”

Wymondham Magazine stepped in as sponsors, after the council’s Leisure & Tourism Committee essentially told respected community organiser Tony Vale where to go, when he requested they provide support for the Spring Arts Festival idea. “Maybe come back in 2025” came the all-too-familiar cold shoulder.

Never mind. Where the Town Council falters, Wymondham Magazine shall provide a lead. It’s like we’ve got experience doing it.

“So I would just say consult Wymondham Magazine for details of time and dates of all the events”, he wrapped up.

Preaching to the choir there. We already know the councillors are all avid readers. Hiya guys!

Take a bow

So there we are then, the toads are safe, the political grizzling over Wymondham town centre is water under the bridge and the project can finally start turning the corner under Hammersmith Bridge.

Let's hope it doesn't all come back up like a nasty bout of E. coli. TCW's keeping his mouth closed just in case.

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