John's Jottings for November 2006

John Ward

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.

Skating on Thin Ice

When a temporary wheelpark (i.e. skateboarding and BMX bike) facility was placed into Jackson's Fields in Rochester for a few weeks during August 2005, loaned by mhs, my fellow councillor Sue Haydock and I went and took a look at this to see how it was faring. It was very popular indeed! For such a small thing it was very well used and appreciated by young people, as this photograph clearly shows:

Temporary Wheelpark

Interestingly, although this temporary structure was rather clattery, it was completely inaudible until we topped the rise before the dip in which it had been located. Good, I thought: this is conveniently located, but causes no disturbance to anyone living nearby, or even passing on the footpaths of New Road and City Way.

Even from the children's play area nearby, nothing of any substance could be heard from the wheelpark direction, we noticed. This looked very promising...

A few months after this successful trial period, a proposal came before the planning (Development Control) committee for a permanent replacement facility. I was substituting on that committee, and fully supported the application, though accepting that the (changed) exact location being proposed might not be ideal. The committee agreed to defer a decision to allow for looking at alternative sitings on Jackson's Fields.

However, Labour's Councillor Teresa Murray rather surprisingly suggested that it shouldn't go on the fields at all!

This surprised us all; but it later transpired that some residents of her ward's side of City Way didn't fancy having this facility anywhere near their homes, so—even though there was no possibility of intrusion or any other undesirable effects of having the wheelpark on the Fields—Cllr Mrs Murray (undoubtedly smelling the possibility of saving some votes, which the Rochester East Labour councillors are known to be desperate to cling onto) fought against the whole idea of having the wheelpark there. At least that's how it was until very recently...

Now it appears that the political wind has changed, and it is more favourable votes-wise for the Rochester East councillors to support the wheelpark on the Fields after all. Craftily they arranged for their other ward member, Cllr Nick Bowler, to present a petition to the Council in support of the proposed facility.

This fooled no-one on our side of the Council Chamber, and was immediately recognised for what it was: a vote (and face) saving exercise on the part of Cllr Mrs Murray in particular, but the Rochester East members in general. They are at least as acutely aware of how precarious their positions have become, after their residents became aware of their misleading (and sometimes downright dishonest) portrayal of issues affecting their ward.

Indeed, local support for them has dwindled to a very low level, as we have seen in the public gallery at meetings of the full Council where such issues have been discussed (generally only well-known and easily recognised Labour Party activists turned up!) and as I noted at their so-called Respect public event, at which there were far more stand staff than public in attendance. They know their seats on the Council are very vulnerable, and so do we!

All this points to one of the big dangers in this whole business, which is that of putting one's own personal—or political party's—interests above one's duty to residents both in the ward and throughout the council's entire area.

Of course circumstances can change, especially when outsiders (typically the present government) impose their demands on local authorities, but the Jackson's Fields wheelpark business is a clear-cut and quite transparent attempt by the Rochester East councillors to subvert everything to suit such personal ends. They are skating on very thin ice!

Frankly, their attitude and approach are nowhere near good enough, and they and anyone else who operates in this way are certainly unfit to represent our residents, and should not be on this or any other Council.

Hopefully, come next May, they no longer will be—at least in Rochester East!

Next time: The Cross in the Box