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Town Council Watch: Great British Weather Special

Local Democracy Sketch

Jimmy Young Published: 29 July 2023

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Rainy puddle and Town Council Watch lettering

The wind of change continued to blow at gale force on Tuesday July 4th, as the new Wymondham Town Council met to discuss an agenda containing just one new bit of business: to revisit an idea from the old council that had vanished under a cloud of mystery at the new council’s AGM a few weeks prior.

Never mind. As the Germans say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment. So heave on your galoshes and put up an enormous golf umbrella, we’re determined to have fun whether it rains or it pours. It’s a Town Council Watch: Great British Summer Weather special.

Singing In The Reign

The first noteworthy update was that works at Chandler’s Hill to create a Platinum Jubilee Queen Elizabeth II Memorial Garden are now expected to begin in September. The project has seen multiple delays over funding, quotes and contractor availability, spanning way over a year.

Let’s hope this latest forecast is accurate then…

Splashing The Cash

Speaking of projects that could prove slipperier than a National Rail platform in inclement weather, Cllr Tony Holden (Con) had spotted an £8600 council payment marked ‘New Cemetery Development - Building Design’.

“As far as I know, we haven't had anything before the council regarding the new cemetery yet”, he puzzled.

The Clerk responded that the payment covered a consultancy to prepare a planning application for the entire new cemetery site: “Once the application pack is prepared, then it will come to the council”.

“So do we actually have a designed building?” Mr Holden followed up about the payment marked ‘Building Design’.

“We have got an outline plan of the site which they're currently working on”, answered the Clerk “they're now working on things such as the various watercourse surveys and drainage surveys and that sort of stuff which is involved in these types of applications.”

Not sure if that’s a yes or no as to whether a building’s been designed.

Cllr Todd Baker (Lab) voiced his concerns about how much was being spent on the project without anything coming before the council to approve: “When can Council expect a report to be able to decide on?”

“Some time this year.” came the Clerk’s response.

That will be good then. A report for the elected councillors to look at, once everything’s already been decided behind closed doors. Don’t worry, this sort of stuff never goes wrong at Wymondham.

Umbrella Group

Up next, Cllr Holden presented his proposal to re-establish a working group of councillors to look at how the council communicates what it’s doing, with its residents.

Stand down chaps. Your good friend TCW’s got that covered. And I do it for free.

The council did previously have a communications working group but it somewhat suddenly went missing after the elections.

Like Mr Holden’s Conservative colleagues.

Still presenting his paper, the North Wymondham representative was just regaling his fellow councillors about the merits of that other titan of publishing, The Forncett Flyer, when Mayor Nuri-Nixon (Lib Dem) cut him off: “Erm I think you’ve made your point…there’s lots of people around the table that would like to give their viewpoint.”

Brevity is an essential skill in communication after all.

*Checks article wordcount* Hmm.

In the resulting discussion, Cllr Joe Barrett (Green) voiced concerns about the breadth of the proposal, lack of costings to create the group and how much of councillors’ voluntary time it would take to work on each of the example ideas contained in there.

Cllr Alex Perry (Lab) had vulnerable groups in town in mind: “Very often it can be more easy for the more powerful to be more savvy about how the council works”

Gosh. I’m blushing.

“We do have a strong feeling here that the vulnerable people who need the council to support them in their struggles get that support and know that we can help them and have ways of communicating with us.” he finished.

Cllr Lowell Doheny (Lab) was reasonably receptive to the idea of looking at communications but could see one potential risk ahead: “the composition of the group I think would need to be considered quite carefully in terms of political parties that are represented”.

Fair point. You wouldn’t want anyone getting hold of the council’s news page and making almost all the stories be about themselves, for instance.

Mayor Nuri-Nixon then put forward the risk that the proposal could overlap with a report the council’s ‘Town Coordinator’ had filed moments before the meeting, on how tourism and retail in the town are promoted.

The South Wymondham councillor also took exception to one suggestion in the proposal about welcome packs for new residents “there's 17,000 people in this town, so you know, if you have any other new residents you have the cost implications there.”

Let’s hope all 17,000 residents don’t move at once then. Imagine the costs!

The discussion ended with Cllr Holden withdrawing the proposal, as a technical way of deferring it to a future month. This was to give councillors a chance to read the Town Coordinator’s report.

But not before the Clerk had time to register his disgruntlement at the report being shared with all the elected councillors immediately: “It's really for me as the Clerk to decide how this report is to be shared." he opined. "I would have preferred if the report would come to me first rather than being sent to individual councillors.

Yeah. Sounds like some internal communication issues there. They should start a working group about it or something.

“You Could Be Talking About Thousands Of Litres Of Water”

With not much else on the agenda, we speedily came to councillors’ updates from outside bodies they sit on. Cllr Baker came with details of a humble request from Wymondham In Bloom for a hose tap outside the public toilets in the town centre.

The Clerk offered a free flowing response: “No tap has been agreed. It’s not proposed at the present time to install the tap. Water isn’t free! If a tap is installed outside, you’d have to be extremely careful the amount of water to be used.” Of a separate tap mooted at Browick Road orchard, he warned: “You could be talking about thousands of litres of water!”

Not exactly gushing with praise for the idea then. Councillors might want to remember the old adage ‘Clerks advise, councillors decide’ though. TCW: come for the jokes, stay for the advice.

Cllr Baker then brought up some general observations about the relationship between the council and volunteers, who organise all manner of things in the town. “One of the challenges at the moment is the slight disharmony between the amount we rely on volunteers to do so much for our town and what we actually provide for them as a council”.

Build the tap! Build the tap!

Wintry Shower

The conversation then came to Wynterfest and to what extent the Town Council can/should feed into the event:

“We have informally amongst ourselves talked about a Christmas event of some kind”, said Mayor Nuri-Nixon. “Maybe not to the scale of Wynterfest, because in a way it became a victim of its own success and there were people that said actually it was a bit too busy and couldn’t get around to see everything”

Too busy? The stallholders and businesses in town must have been devastated.

"That's a horse that bolts without us", noted Mr Baker. "because actually if Wynterfest is organised by volunteers, brought forward by volunteers and they can apply for the various things which are required to put an event like that, we can sit around and talk about whether we think the event should be of such scale or whether it should do X and Y But ultimately we don't have control over those events and I'm not trying to to wrench that out of the hands of volunteers."

After a quick soaking from the Mayor for Labour members for daring to have had separate chats among Labour members (tsk, imagine!), we were done.

In summary... A few sunny spells. Some thunder. And a healthy smattering of drizzle. It's nothing we're not used to.

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