With a by-election due on 28th September, Wymondham Town Council’s full council meeting at the beginning of the month saw more than its fair share of jockeying for position among councillors. One member of the public even intervened at one point to describe the “electioneering” on display as “disgusting”.
Disgusting? Electioneering? Now that’s the sort of thing TCW likes to hear. This is surely going to be a good one. So check your morning suit still fits, adorn your head with a large fascinator, we’re off for a day at the races in our Town Council Watch pre-election special.
And they’re off.
Taking The Seabiscuit
The meeting bounded straight out of the gates with Labour's Michael Rosen whipping out a copy of the Lib Dems' election pamphlet and challenging claims in there that his party hadn’t supported Rothbury Park improvements, when they had.
“I'm really concerned that in the latest edition of Liberal Focus, you have chosen to report that Labour and the Conservative on the council oppose this. Will you undertake to put a correction to that?” fumed the North Wymondham councillor.
“It’s a difficult one with the literature because…” began Mayor Nuri-Nixon (Lib Dem).
“Is there a difficulty about telling the truth on election materials?”, Mr Rosen completed her sentence.
Told you this was going to be a good one.
Before we could enjoy any more, the Clerk took the reins of chairing the meeting and reminded the North Wymondham representative that election materials produced by political parties weren't Town Council business, so shouldn't be discussed in these meetings.
He's technically right of course. Doesn't mean it wasn't bloody entertaining though.
Up next, the council’s lone ranger Conservative Tony Holden had been reading ‘the local press’ and had seen an article asking why the council had spent £500 printing the details of 10x ex-councillors in its most-recent annual report.
They’re good at spotting this type of thing aren’t they, the local press?
“If you’d like to turn to the first page”, the Clerk bristled. “Which year is it for?”, he whinnied. “For the 2022-2023 year, yes. That’s when those councillors were in post for the majority of the year.”
See? The ex-councillors' contact details were published this July just in case you wanted to write to them to say thanks for their services. Nice one. The whole thing smells like something a stable hand might find themselves shovelling out, to this columnist...
We then came to a report from a consultancy working on the Town Council’s new cemetery project. There had been issues with the soil there, caused by the site being used as a dump for earth excavated for the nearby Williams Park estate. Works to remedy the situation are now likely to push back delivery of the whole project. The current cemetery has an estimated two years’ capacity left.
What could possibly go wrong?
After a bit of mudslinging about how long councillors on the New Cemetery working group had known about the issues before it came to full council, Michael Rosen (Lab) shared his concerns on the topic:
“We should look at reviewing whether or not we really need to hold half a million pounds for this cemetery project and, if not, we should be looking at spending it on things like the public realm project where at the moment, notwithstanding the future discussions, there is a funding gap that we need to find in order to get that investment into the town.”
Close But No Shergar
We then came to a thorny discussion about who should and shouldn’t qualify for cheaper residents’ fees for burials in Wymondham’s cemetery.
A Labour proposal introduced by Cllr Todd Baker (Lab) suggested loosening the definition of who was a resident to “create a more compassionate inclusive approach”, which he hoped would bring “cross-party consensus”.
Yeah fingers crossed. TCW held his betting slip hopefully in his hands.
A detailed paper listed some new scenarios where people would still qualify as a resident, when they wouldn't today. These were; if they’d only left Wymondham to go into care and died away from here, if they had lived in town for at least year when they died, or if they’d lived here for 10 years at any point in their lives and still had close family members here.
Got it? Good.
The suggestion triggered a number of concerns around the room.
Cllr Lucy Nixon (Lib Dem) said she hoped she had another 40 years to live herself but gave the example of growing up in Sheringham, but feeling she shouldn't be entitled to a resident's rate there in 2060. She then raised the prospect of a means-tested approach instead.
Cllr Tony Holden (Con) suggested some amendments to the conditions around medical conditions, which Cllr Rosen argued back could be addressed via discretion that had already been built into the proposal:
"Where there's a dispute, it will come to the Town Clerk for a decision and the Town Clerk undoubtedly will apply his usual compassion and generosity to these decisions"
Ahem. What? Nothing.
Cllr Paul Barrett (Green) described the emerging proposal as "woolly" adding "we need a properly thought out proposal that is detailed enough and doesn't leave the Clerk in an awkward position."
TCW didn't detect any specific suggestions or details there. Bit of a woolly contribution you could say.
With councillors taking exception with specific parts of the 3-part proposal, we then had a vote on whether each part should be decided on separately. This would allow people to support the bits they supported and reject the bits they didn't - without quashing the whole thing at once.
But that idea was sent to the knackers' yard when 6x Lib Dems voted it down. 4x Labour and 1x Conservative were for treating the items separately and the 1x Green abstained.
That meant the whole proposal would be voted on, as one. But not before Cllr Todd Baker had time to register his exasperation:
"I'm absolutely staggered that despite people raising grievances with one part of this proposal and having a chance laid in front of you to allow someone who has lived here since the Second World War and had to move into a care home, to allow them to qualify as a resident, we've rejected that out of hand okay to be voted on separately. And unless suddenly everyone's about to get behind a clause which everyone has opposed, I simply cannot understand why that decision has just been made."
"Duly noted" said Mayor Nuri-Nixon.
She'd then go on to say: "It's not that we're against this in principle, I think we all agree that there is a problem with the wording as it stands... so we're not going against the spirit of it, we think it's not clear enough so I suggest that this is deferred until the next meeting."
Voting against stuff is always the best way to show you support it.
But Mr Baker wasn't happy with that:
"If those councillors agree with this in principle, then they also had the ability when this was circulated to type an amendment prior to the meeting about what they thought it should have looked like."
The entire proposal was eventually rejected when everyone voted on the same lines. 6x Lib Dems voted against, 4x Labour + 1x Conservative for and 1x Green sat on the fence and abstained.
Only the Grand National has fewer hurdles to jump, to get anything done.
Neigh Sayers On Playground Improvements Too
Next up was another proposal submitted by the council’s Labour group, which among other things sought to create a ‘Wymondham Play Strategy’ and immediately address what it described as the ‘large number of repair and maintenance issues’ on council-owned land.
Introducing the proposal, Cllr Lowell Doheny (Lab) described his experience of the town's playgrounds:
"As a parent myself in the town when my children were young it was something that always concerned me and I never felt they were very adequate sadly." Now his children were teenagers, they now "often walk listlessly around the town".
The poor darlings. Something must be done!
Cllr Lucy Nixon wanted some more details: "My question is which parks require urgent repairs? They're not mentioned here. There's no photographs of any damaged equipment. And my concern is if they're dangerous and in need of immediate action to repair them should we be looking at fencing off some of this equipment in order to make sure that nobody gets hurt."
The Clerk intervened on some of the "emotive wording" in the proposal. Although he admitted the play equipment wasn't in "pristine Rolls-Royce condition", he did point out that the council's insurance company had only found that two new bolts were required to keep play equipment within tolerable safety limits.
Oh Icarus. Fly not too close to the sun with your towering ambition.
But it was a line about the town council potentially adopting playgrounds from other organisations that got District Councillor Dave Roberts’ (Lib Dem) back up, who used the public participation section to bemoan the move being “a potential blank cheque on council funds” describing it as “inappropriate”. Lucy Nixon agreed: "this proposal is looking to more than double the expenditure for play equipment for the Town Council"
TCW had to check what date it was for a moment there. Anyone listening in might not have realised there had been a change in which councillors were in charge after the May elections.
Cllr Lowell Doheny (Lab) said a “sense check” on adopting new playgrounds was already built in, pointing out: “any proposals that are made to take on new sites are to take into account affordability and value for money and ultimately any significant expense would have to go back through full council anyway”.
A forlorn Cllr Tony Holden (Con) said he'd keep his contribution brief to avoid wasting time: “the current administration has a fallback position and a preferred option of actually doing nothing and so I'm absolutely confident this will fail.”
And he was correct. The proposal was voted down by the 6x Liberal Democrats. 4x Labour + 1x Conservative supported it and 1x Green abstained.
Reaching the final furlong, we trotted into the District Councillor updates section but there was still room for some electioneering.
After Cllr Kevin Hurn (Con) had informed those present about a South Norfolk District Council hosted session on setting up residents’ associations, Town Council candidate Dave Roberts (Lib Dem) breathlessly galloped up to the microphone: “Just to correct my colleague here, um, the meeting for the residents' association has been organised by myself. It is aided by South Norfolk Council. On my request!”
Then, when Cllr Holden congratulated allotment holders on the amount of produce they’d grown for the foodbank this year, Cllr Annette James (Lib Dem) agreed “I'd just like to say that the foodbanks appreciate the food that I collect every week and take to them.”
Subtle. Remember folks, it’s not doing good things that counts. It’s making sure everyone knows you've done them.
Two Horse Race
And with that, the councillors left to go and concentrate on winning those all important votes out there in the real world. With the Greens and Tories deciding to stay behind in the paddock and not run in the Town Council by-election, it would be a two-horse race between Labour and the Lib Dems.
Who would win the 1000 Guineas? Who would end up with a long face? Only the fearsome Wymondham electorate knew.