John's Jottings for December 2004

John Ward A longer-than-usual one for the Festive Season—enjoy it!

Please note: these Jottings are purely personal comment, and do not necessarily or directly represent the policy of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative Group on Medway Council.

Foot-in-Mouth Disease

When we had Derek Munton on the council's Labour benches, although he was apt to drone on a lot he did at least offer us occasional entertainment without exactly meaning to do so.

Well, after more than a year of relative quiet from him since he failed to be re-elected in May 2003, he has started "putting himself about" as the saying goes—turning up at planning site visits, committee meetings, and writing to the local newspapers' letters pages. His latest effort is classic Munton!

You might remember that this is the fellow who once tried deperately hard to skew an argument in his favour after the results of a poll showed a very strong preference for the opposite of what he and the rest of the Labour group wanted. There were five possible "tick box" responses, so what our Derek did was to lump together all the four categories that weren't the one result he didn't like, and found that they totalled about a third as many as the public's single true preferred option that way. He claimed in the Council Chamber that this gave credence to his viewpoint...

Well, this time he has admitted that when he was chairman of the council's Planning Committee, yes he and his group did put the land rear of Compass Close (that has been in the local news a few times this past year) into the Medway Local Plan for housing—in complete disagreement with the claims of his former colleagues who have been trying to persuade the local residents there that they hadn't.

Especially bearing in mind that this was before John Prescott raised housing quotas and densities in the south-east and the expectation that forty percent of this housing would be on greenfield sites, this is actually a devastating (for the Labour group) revelation. Indeed, although this was not mentioned in this letter, one idea they'd had was to develop the whole Copperfields Open Space, complete with a road all the way across what is currently the playing fields area. It would all have gone, not just the scrubland.

The most amusing part of the Munton missive, though, was his claim that they hadn't intended to sell the site. Interesting: how had they intended to meet the legal obligation they would have had to provide that housing? Perhaps they intended to build the properties themselves—a whole new batch of council houses, paid for out of Medway people's money of course.

No, I don't think so. It's just another example of Munton's lifelong foot-in-mouth disease, and anyone who is even half-awake will realise that of course they would have needed to sell the site—all of it, apparently, not just the unused scrubland.

All this leaves the local ward councillors in a bit of a predicament. One of them lives with Mr Munton, and is hardly likely to have been unaware of what he had been doing during his time on the council, so that puts her repeated and very vocal stance berating the council's Conservative administration (now isn't that a surprise!) well and truly into proper context. It was in reality her group's idea in the first place, and that can no longer be denied!

The other, more serious aspect is that—especially as all the impositions from the Labour government that I mentioned above are now far better known by the public, and so easy to check—this means that it was clear from the outset that the issue of the sale of this land could not be resolved at council level. The only way to avoid the need to sell unused green land is to get the government to remove those impositions they have placed on councils (with threats of far worse if we do not comply, by the way). Oh, and we'd also need the return of the many millions of pounds gerrymandered away from this council to the north, so that we could afford not to sell the site.

Obviously the Labour ward councillors know this just as well as my group does, so if they had seriously been interested in supporting their residents' wishes in regard to this site, clearly they would have taken their main battle—with the entire protest group—to central government.

They did not.

Instead, it seems that they merely used those residents to further at least one of the ward councillors' personal political ambitions, wasting this opportunity by having them concentrate all their fire on the council. As a result, the local authority is still bound to operate under exactly the same strictures as they were at the start. The Rochester East members must have deliberately and knowingly sacrificed the land, doing their residents absolutely no favours.

By contrast, here in my ward where our agenda is always to support our residents as best we can, and have no personal ambitions beyond that, we always aim at the correct target, which is why (for example) all our green spaces are safely protected and none is under any kind of threat.

Now, you tell me: who is a good and valuable ward councillor, and who isn't?

Next time: The "Lies Rabble"