BY NICK PEARCE
For a year now, from afar, Country Squire Magazine has been following the travails of the inhabitants of Torbay as they have faced up to their corrupt and incompetent council. In particular, the magazine has pointed out the council’s continuing disdain for the very sensible Neighbourhood Plan which locals have signed up to – aiming to protect some stunningly beautiful parts of England’s green belt and some heritage sites which the council, in cahoots with developers, want to build on.
It would seem that politicians – even dime store huckster versions such as operate in Torbay – have a penchant these days for ignoring referenda.
The latest development is that petty Torbay Council are not even allowing local residents to put up banners on sites they wish to protect. The key officer involved is called Anne Marie-Bond, currently working as Director of Corporate Services & Operations – apparently with ambitions to go one step further and to run the council in coming years. She is linked to the mess in Torbay that is gradually being uncovered by investigators and the national media thanks to a series of brave whistleblowers.
Over the past year Country Squire Magazine has come to understand that Torbay has two major problems. The first is decade upon decade of corruption – across all political parties and involving some independent councillors, alongside council officers and others in receipt of public monies or planning permissions. The second is a divided response by local residents – most of whom are so blinkered by their own backyard issues that they fail to join up with others hoping to get the same corrupt councillors and officers exposed and then thrown in jail. The situation is not dissimilar to the situation engulfing other areas with dodgy councils – places like Sandwell and Portsmouth (it seems there are quite a few across the UK). The problem is not even party political – Tories are as bad as Lib Dems who are as bad as Labour and other groupings. When an area runs down, quality human capital flees and you’re left with muppets as councillors – corruption sets in.
The reality is that local residents fight back against dodgy councils but it’s how they fight back that determines winners from those in a continuing trajectory of decline. In short, local areas get the councils they deserve. Torbay is in a downward spiral because local residents have failed thus far to put together a sufficiently strong and joined-up fight. The new councillors likely to take up seats are incompetents or cut from the same cloth as existing failures.
The press release the residents have issued with regard to this petty sign planting spat is detailed below. Just another symptom of a plague that can only be eradicated from Torbay by mass arrests in the council and elsewhere. Think Brighton 1957 but, in so many ways, worse.
Country Squire Magazine shall continue to watch on with interest. In many ways Torbay is a test case – key to protecting the Great British Countryside and some of our key heritage. Maybe locals will finally see the light and unite to help themselves?
Torquay Neighbourhood Plan Forum Press Release:
Torbay Council has stopped the Torquay Neighbourhood Plan from campaigning to inform residents of the referendum on the 2nd May and their ability to stop development of their local green space.
What seems to be a carefully timed decision by Torbay Council Chief Monitoring Officer has torpedoed the volunteer community group that has written a Neighbourhood Plan for Torquay. The Plan is being voted on at a referendum coinciding with the local elections and contains a number of policies that will be used to decide planning applications as well as designating 99 green spaces for special protection as Local Green Spaces.
It seems that this protection that has been objected to by Torbay Council officers has prompted them to try and stop the campaign after the volunteers from across Torquay planned to post small banners on each green space to tell residents and users that there will be a referendum on 2nd May and that their green space can be protected if the neighbourhood plan is supported. This comes after the Council opposed every single green space designation (not only in Torquay but also in the whole of Torbay) when the Plan was open for consultation – their statement was ‘Object to LGS designation possible future development of all or part’.
The Plan has passed an independent examination against national planning policies which upheld the protection. The Chair of the Torquay Neighbourhood Plan Forum said ‘we are just a bunch of keen amateurs who with a lot of help from the communities of Torquay and specialist Government consultants have written a Plan to help make Torquay the best place to live work and visit in the West Country’, he added ‘we are rooted in the Community Partnership system in Torquay and over the last seven years we have consulted widely and developed a really great Plan that reflects the wishes of our communities and will help deliver the jobs and homes we desperately need while protecting our environment’.
Commenting on the green space issue he said ‘the Council has never wanted us to succeed and protect these 99 green spaces; over the years they have tried to stop us producing a Plan at all by attempting to terminate the Plan and then objecting to almost all our draft policies; in the end we had to get a Government representative to come down and tell them to abide by the law’.
The Council had told the Chairman that he could not post signs that said ‘promoted a yes vote’ at the referendum so the wording was changed to just inform rather than to tell people to vote yes. At the last minute the Council then changed its mind because a picture of the sign was posted on the vote yes campaign Facebook Page @Torquaynp and he was told ‘By virtue of the Forum’s facebook page, I can see that the banner seeks to promote a yes vote’. The Chairman challenged the Council calling the decision ‘ludicrously crass’ and saying: ‘The conclusion is that any information that refers to the Torquay Neighbourhood Plan will inevitably lead by one route or another to our campaign for a yes vote. Therefore by inference there cannot be any publicity for our Plan – period. This is not what the law states nor is its intent’.
The communities across Torquay have vowed to post whatever they like where they like in their effort to inform people of their Plan and ask them to vote yes at the referendum.