02 August 2015

How I finally learned how to spell 'Diarrhoea'





Scene:  The council chamber in New Mills, High Peak, Derbyshire.

Date:  Friday 31 July 2015.

Time:  The council meeting was scheduled to start at 7:30 pm, but was a few minutes late due to discussions outside the room involving the council chairman, the town clerk and Mr David Lamb.

The issue being discussed:  The identity of the newly co-opted councillors, following ineffective May 2015 local elections for five seats in the Ollersett ward and one seat in the Sett ward.

At about twelve minutes past eight, the council was still discussing the co-option result when Cllr Ray Atkins finally had enough of Cllr Lance Dowson monopolising the speaking time during council meetings.

Cllr Atkins complained loudly about Cllr Dowson’s ‘verbal diarrhoea’ (the exact expression used by Cllr Atkins) that constantly delays progress of council business in the chamber and prevents other members from getting a chance to speak.

The meeting moves on.  The clock moves around the dial to 8:30 pm:

Cllr Lance Dowson:   I won’t be voting for it. (Editor's note: the co-option proposal that has just been made) I'm not prepared to put myself or the council in a position where they could be open to a very considerable financial obligation.  And I would like as a right of a councillor to have a named vote on this issue.

David Lamb:   Can I just add, even though what Cllr Ashton just said, believes there are eleven councillors… in front of me is a signed declaration of acceptance of office for parish councillor and that will obviously be part of the evidence there… from the advice given by DALC

Cllr Ray Atkins:  Surely a signed declaration means nothing if you weren't elected in the first place.  I could go on the House of Commons website and download an acceptance for Member of Parliament for High Peak.  It wouldn't make… I wouldn't draw very much salary I can tell you and you wouldn't see me very much in parliament

Unidentified cllr voice (female):  Can you take control of this meeting please… it’s half past eight and we’re still…

Chairman Cllr Sean Whewell:   It’s an important thing we’re discussing…

Unidentified cllr voice (female):   I know it’s important, but we’re just going round in circles.

SW  We’re part way through a proposal here…

Cllr Tony Ashton:   We've had a proposal and we've had a seconder chair… I suggest we put it to the vote

LD  And I've used my right to ask for a named vote.

(Pause)

LD  Sorry, but for those that don’t know, that records how people voted for it or against it.  And I've made the point that I'm not prepared to vote for it because of the possibility of opening individuals and the council to considerable financial charges.

TA  Individuals can not be charged…

RA  That’s right.  You fail on that Lance, sorry.

LD  Don’t take… will you stop taking such stupid joy in…

RA  No, Lance.  You speak time and time again.  Verbal diarrhoea!

LD  Calm down…

RA  Meeting after meeting after meeting

(Both LD and RA start shouting across each other)

LD  Can I just point out if someone’s disturbing the meeting council can ask that he be removed. Councillor Atkins is disturbing the meeting

RA  Can we both go out?

Cllr Lance Dowson looks furious.  He gets up from his chair and rushes sideways towards the door, like an angry crab.

Readers who are unfamiliar with the layout of the council chamber need to know that the row of councillors that Cllr Dowson was sitting in, in which he was furthest away from the door, has councillors sitting in chairs with their backs close to the wall.

This meant that Cllr Dowson had to squeeze sideways between the middle three chairs and the wall, holding on to the backs of the chairs as he passed, while pulling in his stomach as best he could.

It must be hard to maintain an angry facial expression whilst simultaneously a) sporting a beard; b) sucking your breath in; and c) trying to make sideways progress through a particularly awkward space behind three lady councillors.

Meanwhile, Cllr Atkins also rushed towards the door.  His route was unencumbered.

The instincts of retired senior police officer Mike Carter now cause him to jump up and hasten to the door.  In his case it was to intercept the superannuated potential pugilists.  In a surprising development, it turns out he can move quite fast for someone awaiting serious knee surgery.

‘You can’t fight in here. This is the War Room’ as the president puts it in Dr Strangelove.

In all the years of covering New Mills town council, from a fraudulent ‘village green’ claim over land containing a brick-built sewage works (2002), to a councillor deliberately asking a town clerk to lie to the other councillors (2008), from a compensation culture ‘trip and slip’ claim being made against the town council for a piece of land it has never owned (2015 - story to follow), to a town clerk keeping a lover’s willy pictures in the town council’s safe (2013), I have never seen anything quite like this.

Instead of things like the above, can we please have a normal, placid, efficient, businesslike, time-conscious, honest town council ?

No doubt now that we have a settled membership line-up, four females are on the council, and the selfish misuse of other people’s time at meetings, repetitively and constantly, by just one particular councillor (leading to this incident), has been vividly brought to the new Chair’s attention, the council should now be able to improve things.


01 August 2015

The Settlement Of The Council Membership Question







The saga over the number of current members of New Mills Town Council is over *.

Last night’s town council meeting, on the evening of Friday 31 July 2015, passed a resolution that the council moves forward with eleven members, leaving one council vacancy to be filled in due course.

A bizarre postscript was added to the resolution.  This was that Mark Trillo, an officer of High Peak Borough Council, be consulted.

What has this matter, which is a technical local government co-option matter, got to do with Mark Trillo?  He is the Borough Council’s monitoring officer, the post which deals with standards and conduct of existing councillors.  True, he is a deputy election returning officer, but this is not a public election it is a council co-option.  These are two distinct, separate areas of law.

The only serious option available to the council if it wants to obtain definitive legal advice on this matter would be to instruct the council’s solicitor to obtain opinion of counsel.

The specialist barrister consulted (‘counsel’) would be a legal expert in town and parish council law. The total cost to the local council taxpayers would probably be in the region of £2,000 to £3,000.

HPT Editor’s view on the principal issue - whether David Lamb is a councillor or not - changed as soon as the recording of the council co-option meeting was played.

Prior to listening back to the meeting recording, because of the protocols in place for selecting six new councillors after the May local elections, it seemed fairly plain that David Lamb was a co-opted councillor.  Given the correspondence etc with the Derbyshire Association of Local Councils, at the very least that was a reasonable view to take in the matter.

However upon playing the recording, it is clear that the chairman of the council, Cllr Whewell, lists the six people who are co-opted on to the council and then declares the meeting closed.  Both the statements and the timing of the statements are critical.

The recording now proves that it is after the meeting has closed that Andy Bowers, one of the successful co-optees, withdraws his application to be on the council.  This timing of the closing of the meeting is fatal to the case that David Lamb was one of the six co-optees.


* It is open to any elector or person aggrieved by this decision to challenge it by asking the High Court to review it.

In another example of time being critical, all parties interested in this matter need to be aware that under the courts’ Civil Procedure Rules they have to give the public body in question (NMTC) notice of intention to apply for judicial review as soon as possible, and in any event must make the application to the High Court no later than three months after the public body’s decision was made.





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Aldi Planning Application - A Right of Reply





Borough and Town Councillor Lance Dowson has sent in a response to some recent readers' comments on High Peak Transparency that he believes are unfair.

The issue concerned is the Aldi planning application for a supermarket fronting the A6 next to Newtown station (site pictured above).

We always print a 'Right of Reply' article when one is sent to us. The only requirement is that it must carry the name of the person or entity that has made the reply.

Here is Cllr Dowson's statement in full:


"The Aldi planning application came before the High Peak Borough council development control committee (planning committee) on Monday and was passed by 10 votes for and 1 against

The position that I am in, on the committee, is that I can speak on all applications for approx a minute or so as a committee member, and have a vote, or if an application is in my ward area then I can speak for approx. 5 minutes as the ward councillor but am then unable to vote.

On this occasion I had planned to speak to it as a member of the committee as Cllr Ray Atkins had said that ”in all probability” he would attend to speak as the ward member so that the committee would hear about the issues from both cllrs.

However as Cllr Atkins had not arrived by 1.30, when the meeting was due to start, I had to decide whether to speak on the committee for a minute or so and vote, or as the ward member for around five minutes and lose my right to vote. I chose to speak as the ward member which meant that I had to prepare some notes in the 10/15 minutes while the first item on the agenda was being debated.

These are the comments that I made:

This is a very important application that could have a considerable effect on New Mills if passed and as the opinions about whether it will be good or bad for the town are very close in numbers I ask you to consider it very carefully.

One of the main concerns that many people have is the risk to the current shops in New Mills.

Ten years ago the town partnership and the town council decided that as we didn't have such things as the Pavilion Gardens, the Opera House etc we needed to promote good value, good quality local shops.

We obtained regeneration grants to replace many of the town centre shop fronts with more of the original/traditional style, argued for ,and got, better parking arrangements and we now have:-
Two  very good in shop bakeries
Two very good fruit and veg shops.
An excellent butcher (I would argue as good as the one in Glossop that gets a lot of awards)
A very good florist
A very good visiting fishmonger
And many other very good little shops but these could be the ones most affected.
People now travel to New Mills to use these shops from Marple, Disley, Hayfield and even further away to visit and shop in our town.

These shops must not be put at risk

But then Sainsburys and the Co-op are dear and there is a need for a ‘discount food store’ for the residents on benefits, low wages etc especially as the New Mills East area has areas within it that are the second or third most deprived areas in the High Peak.

Resident’s opinions:

I did a very simple survey of the residents in the immediate area.
My question was – are you concerned about the new Aldi store?
I visited 141 houses - 126 people were in – 58 said no – 68 said yes

Cllr Atkins did a survey through his Focus newsletter and, I think, that the response to his first question was against it but for the second question for it.

In your officer's report there are 60 something for it and 70 something against it.

Basically therefore overall consistently just under 50% for it and just over 50% against it, that’s how close it is.

The town council has expressed concerns about the loss of an historical building and the potential highway problems.

Other considerations:

Looking on the internet we can see that we already have Aldi stores in Romily-4 miles away, Hazel Grove  4.2 miles away, Offerton -4.5 miles away, Chapel -5 miles away, Glossop -5.3 miles away and Hyde 5.4 miles away.
Therefore we already have 6 Aldi stores at around 5 miles away and I ask you to consider is this an Aldi too far.

We also now have an Asda in place of the co-op in Marple just 2 miles away.

Other points that i would ask you to consider are:-

Could the car park entrance not be widened, by removing the grassed, flower, tree area, so that the old chapel could be saved and turned into flats.

If you do decide to approve it could you put a condition in to protect the residents living in the old school from the effects of the demolition of the chapel etc.?

I know that this is a very difficult decision for you but, in spite of the need for a discount store, due to the proximity of all the other Aldi stores, the new Asda, the loss of an historical building, the many questions about the highway issues and the potential risk to the local shops in the town centre and the possible loss of these to the town I lean towards asking you to reject it.

Thank you"



27 July 2015

Aldi Given Planning Permission For New Supermarket at New Mills Newtown



This evening, Jonathan Dodds of the Buxton Advertiser posted the following on the newspaper's website:

Plans for a new Aldi retail food store in New Mills have been given the green light, despite fears by objectors that it will lead to increased traffic congestion and impact on existing town centre shops.

High Peak Borough Council’s Development Control Committee voted 10-1 in favour of the development of a single storey flat-roofed supermarket on vacant land off Albion Road, close to Newtown train station.

The budget supermarket chain’s new store, covering a gross floor area of 1,784 square metres, will be accompanied by 92 customer and six staff parking spaces. The roof will also be fitted with an array of 200 photovoltaic solar panels.

The application provoked a mixed response from residents, with 51 letters of support received by the council and over 70 in objection.

New Mills councillor Lance Dowson told the committee there were conflicting arguments both for and against the scheme. These included balancing the need to protect the town centre’s traditional independent shops with that of offering a discount food store to people living in areas of the town deemed some of the most deprived in High Peak.

“Perhaps this is an Aldi too far?” he questioned, referring to an online search which revealed six Aldi stores within five miles of the town.

Other concerns highlighted included fears over increased traffic, particularly at the junction with Albion Road, and the proposed demolition of the neighbouring methodist chapel as part of alterations to the site entrance, an action which objectors claimed would be “an act of vandalism”.

A planning officer’s report to the meeting, which recommended approval, said the proposed development would “deliver economic, social and environmental benefits”, adding that any negative impacts relating to highway safety and residential amenity could be addressed through planning conditions.

Cllr Emily Thrane said, on the face of it, she could see no reason to refuse the application, and welcomed the inclusion of an overspill car park for the railway station which would provide 22 spaces.

Cllr Stewart Young lauded the potential boost to local jobs, and reiterated a condition of approval would be a Section 106 agreement to deliver funding towards highway and traffic management measures.

Voting against approval, Cllr John Kappes said that while he welcomed the development of a brownfield site, he felt there were more suitable uses for the land.

“This is an ideal location for start-up housing, what with a train station and shops nearby,” he commented.

“For me, Aldi would be wrong for New Mills, it would be wrong for Disley, and would be a drain on local resources.”

The approved plans also included outline permission for a light industrial unit at the rear of the site, and retention of the existing footbridge.

21 July 2015

This is getting silly



Following the unexpected postponement / cancellation of its 13 July 2015 meeting without notice, New Mills town council duly convened a council meeting with the same agenda to take place on this coming Thursday 23 July 2015.

The replacement meeting was convened in the correct legal way as follows:

1. The agenda for the meeting was published by affixing it in a conspicuous place in the town.

(In this case, the conspicuous place is the public notice board at the junction of Spring Bank, Hall Street and Market St)

2.  The summons to attend the meeting, along with the published agenda, was sent out to all councillors.

So far so good.


So what are we to make of the following email, which was sent to all councillors this morning at just after 11 o'clock.  The text of the email is:

"Good morning

I have been instructed by the Chair to cancel the meeting for Thursday 23rd July.  I have suggested that the Vice Chair should chair the meeting.

Regards

Lesley Bramwell

Clerk to New Mills Town Council"


It has now been several weeks since the last normal business of New Mills Town Council was conducted, excluding of the co-option of the new group of councillors.

In a possibly connected development, we understand that a small number of people is still hoping that they might be able to obstruct council member Cllr David Lamb from taking his duly appointed place at meetings.


The law concerning absence of a local council chairman is clear, simple and unambiguous:

Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12:

Paragraph 11(2):
If the chairman of the council is absent from a meeting of the council, the vice chairman of the council, if present, shall preside.

Paragraph 11(3):
If both the chairman and the vice-chairman of the council are absent from a meeting of the council, such councillor as the members of the council present shall choose shall preside



NOTE:  SINCE THE ABOVE ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED, THE OFFICIAL NOTICE HAS BEEN PUT ON THE TOWN COUNCIL WEBSITE ADVISING THAT THE 23 JULY 2015 MEETING HAS BEEN CANCELLED

28 June 2015

Co-option Meeting Part Three - The Final Interviews, and the Selection Is Arrived At


Continued from previous article


David Lamb

The next candidate to be interviewed was David Lamb.  David has been a councillor for four years.

Cllr Lamb had a very strong attendance record during his last four-year term.

David’s tenure as the chairman of New Mills Town Council 2014-2015 was outstanding.  This is because he stood up to all of the blackmail, all of the threats, and all of the dirty tricks that the ex-town clerk’s little band of supporters could throw at him following her dismissal.

As a result, the Hall Street Jokers failed in their attempt to shake down New Mills town council - and hence the council taxpayers of New Mills.  See previous HPT articles for all the details of this.

However some of the Hall Street Jokers are still up to their little games so far as Cllr Lamb is concerned.

After trying to scapegoat everyone else, the HSJs are now trying to scapegoat Cllr Lamb for their abject defeat in their doomed Employment Tribunal claim.

The HSJs look everywhere to cast blame, except for the right place.  The blame lies solely with the unacceptable actions and omissions of the dishonest, incompetent and foul-mouthed former town clerk (Susan Stevens) who was sacked for gross misconduct in a public office.

The latest lies against Cllr Lamb being peddled by disgraced ex-councillor Alistair Stevens (partner of Susan Stevens) are claims of so-called ‘money laundering’. No doubt Cllr Lamb will also be accused of financing Al-Qaeda, planning to poison the national water supply, causing the Greek eurozone crisis, and being behind the appointment of Chris Evans to Top Gear.


Rebecca Harman

Rebecca was the only candidate to get a vote from all six of the voting councillors.  That’s quite a vote of confidence to live up, so good luck to her.

Being a beginner at this sort of thing, Rebecca indicated that she would like to attend the necessary ‘good councillor’ training.  She won’t have to start from scratch though, as the excellent Good Councillor Guide is expected to be distributed to all the newly co-opted councillors who don’t yet have a copy

When leaving the interview, she put in a good word for Lynn Allen (formerly Cardwell), the candidate who was not present at the interviews.


Andy Bowers

Andy Bowers is New Mills born and bred, with a phenomenal range of local contacts.  He has just completed a four-year term as a councillor.

Andy believes that, because the council is a public body, paid for by public money, its business must be conducted openly and in public.


Result

The six new councillors-elect on New Mills Town Council were announced as (in alphabetical order):

Lynn Allen

Sara Atherton

Andy Bowers (subsequently withdrew; see note below)

Derek Brumhead

Rebecca Harman

Claire Lamb

Just after the co-option meeting ended, Andy Bowers announced to the meeting that he was withdrawing from the co-option process.  As he did not sign the Declaration of Acceptance of Office, he did not become a councillor.

The above five new members join the existing six councillors, who are:

Sean Whewell (Chair)

Tony Ashton

Josh Gaskell

Lance Dowson

Ray Atkins

Barry Bate


The gender agenda

The council is now more balanced than previously, having seven males and four females, and a couple of younger (or at least younger-looking) members. It is no longer exclusively pale, male and stale.



27 June 2015

Co-option Meeting Part Two - The First Interviews


Continued from previous article


After all the pre-selection procedures had been completed, the six vacancies on New Mills Town Council were competed for by seven remaining candidates.

These were, in alphabetical order:

Lynn Allen (formerly Cardwell)
Sara Atherton
Andy Bowers
Derek Brumhead
Rebecca Harman
Claire Lamb
David Lamb


Lots and arrangements

The candidates, apart from Lynn Allen who was not present, went out of the council chamber and into an ante-room to await their turn for interview.

After their interview in the council chamber, they would be shown to a different room.  This was in order to avoid post-interview candidates mixing with pre-interview candidates and giving them advance knowledge or tips about the questions in the upcoming interview.

Lots were drawn in the presence of the candidates to fairly determine the order in which those present would appear before the council.

Upon reading the previous sentence, English grammar police will have winced at seeing the split infinitive. However, that battle is lost. We all now have to live happily with the split infinitive.

The following are the subjective impressions of this reporter.  Other people will of course have their own views on the candidates.


Sara Atherton

First up was Sara Atherton.  Sara came across well apart from one serious blunder.  This was that she stressed, in her view, the paramount importance of confidentiality.

Here are the serious problems with 'confidentiality' where the public's business is concerned:

‘Confidentiality’ is what led to the disastrous Iraq war vote and action.

‘Confidentiality’ is what led to MPs getting away for years with stealing millions of pounds of expenses - taxpayers’ money - that they weren't entitled to.

‘Confidentiality’ is what led to the ninety-six innocent deaths in 1989 at Hillsborough going for a quarter of a century without the justice of a full public judge-led inquiry.

‘Confidentiality’ is what led to the insane High Peak Magistrates Court scheme almost being foisted on the unsuspecting public of New Mills.

‘Confidentiality’ is what led to a profoundly dishonest, incompetent, foul-mouthed town clerk of New Mills (Susan Stevens) nearly getting away without being exposed and sacked.

No.  In public life, transparency is the word.  Not ‘confidentiality’.

In public life - that is to say in local councils that are paid for by the taxpayer - with very few exceptions ‘confidentiality’ is a bad word.

It is to be hoped that in stressing ‘confidentiality’ Ms Atherton made an innocent error arising from inexperience in public life.  Dealing almost entirely with family-related matters in her work-life could be where this ‘confidentiality’ slip-up came from in her councillor interview.

(Note:  since this article was published, Sara told HPT Editor straight that she hasn't got any time for 'media crap'.  A fair comment, well made.)

Sara has been present in the public gallery at council meetings, and again that shows a genuine interest. But why not let Sara say it in her own words: “I've been to several town council meetings and been struggling to keep my mouth closed.”

Sara supported Labour’s ‘Caitlin Bisknell for 2015’ and has several local Labour Party faces on her Facebook page.  Not that there is anything wrong with that!


Dr Derek Brumhead MBE

Most people reading this local politics blog will already know of Dr Brumhead.

A genuinely nice person, Dr Brumhead is far too modest to mention his MBE, so we’ll mention it for him.

Dr Brumhead’s detailed knowledge of the local history of this area is immense.  He has shared that valuable knowledge in a huge number of books and expert articles over the years.

Dr Brumhead was instrumental in creating the New Mills Heritage Centre in the late 1980s, an institution that is still going strong today.

Another person living in New Mills started self-importantly calling himself “Mr New Mills” a few years ago. However, if there ever were to be such a genuine title it would have to be awarded to Dr Brumhead.


Claire Lamb

Mother-of-two Claire, 42, has lived in New Mills all her life.

Claire has worked within social services and during her interview gave ‘listening’ as a good skill.

Claire interviewed very well.  The stand-out quote out of all the interviews was from Claire. It was:
“I would like to be part of the administration going forward and help to continue the good work… especially the transparency and being open with the public”





If any of the above pen-portraits are inaccurate in any way, the subject is most welcome to get in touch and they will promptly be amended accordingly.  The same applies if any subject wants additional details added to the above mini-bios.



To be concluded shortly with Co-option Meeting Part Three 


25 June 2015

Co-option Meeting Part One - Preparation and Debates



The council meeting to co-opt the necessary six new councillors for New Mills town council was held at the town hall on Monday 22 June 2015.  This was the only item of business on the agenda.

Early in the meeting a loud wailing and crying was audible from the public gallery, interrupting the council speakers.

No, dear reader.  Disgraced former councillor Alistair Stevens had not returned to the council chamber and carried on making his usual noises. The incoherent gurgler on this occasion turned out to be four month-old baby Erika, in the public gallery with her parents.


The co-option process, all held in public

The town council, with the expert advice and counsel of the Derbyshire Association of Local Councils, designed a process for selecting the necessary six councillors.

In summary, the co-option process was as follows, with each stage allocated a time deadline:

1. Publicise the vacancies on the council and the forthcoming co-options;

2.  Expressions of interest in becoming a councillor are invited from all qualifying interested persons.

3. An application pack is then sent out to interested potential councillors.

4. All candidates still in the selection process after the above stages are interviewed in public, at the public council co-option meeting.

5. Councillors then vote on each candidate, in public.  Councillors are asked to state the reasons for their votes.

6.  Because the purpose was to co-opt six new councillors, each voting councillor only has a maximum of six votes available to him.


Number of candidates

The number of original co-option applicants was substantially more than six.

However, after the application pack and the rules of the contest went out, and it became clear to potential candidates that the process of becoming a councillor (quite correctly) was not an automatic or easy one and that no ‘friend of a councillor’ would be a shoo-in, several candidates withdrew and the list was reduced to seven.


Lynn Allen (formerly Cardwell)

One of the seven remaining candidates, Lynn Allen, stated she was on holiday at the time of this council meeting.

This led to lively discussions at which the view was aired that by failing to turn up for the interview Ms Allen/Cardwell had failed the selection process.

On this view, there were therefore now only six candidates for the six co-option vacancies.  The necessary number having been arrived at, no election would be necessary.


Six or seven?

The council meeting was suspended so that members of the public (as well as the councillors) could air their views on how this issue should best be resolved.

HPT Editor put the case to the meeting on this issue as follows:  Firstly a lot of work had gone into designing the selection process in order to end up with the widest possible choice, and therefore no candidate should be unnecessarily excluded.  Secondly Lynn Allen was an outstanding candidate to be a councillor.

Therefore Ms Allen should still be considered as a candidate.  If any voting councillor wanted to mark her down for failing to appear for the interview then that was legitimate, but the interview was only a part of the selection process and not the whole process. There was some support for this view.

The contrary view, also legitimate and expressed by several people, was that six of the co-option candidates had had to go through the onerous test of public interview.  For one person to avoid that ordeal, whatever the reason, was unfair on those six.

After debate, the council decided that Ms Lynn Allen would remain as a candidate.

Therefore, at the start of voting, seven candidates were standing to fill the six available vacancies.


To be continued.  Next article on the way...





Cartoon in honour of Cllr Bate's desire that New Mills Town Council have more females and more people from Ollersett

24 June 2015

Social Housing And Money


Michael Renshaw, a High Peak Borough Council tenant, has forwarded us a copy of the following letter he recently sent to High Peak Borough councillor Emily Thrane:


"Dear Councillor Thrane,

"Thank you for replying to Edwina Currie’s letter in the Buxton Advertiser. I must confess that I didn't read Edwina’s letter but I do get the gist of a discounted cash flow model. My understanding is that the council own the bricks and mortar of their housing stock but they also owe a commitment to their sitting tenants to manage, maintain and invest in the stock.

"The sentence that drew my attention was `Any transfer has to be supported by tenants through a ballot`.

"This is incorrect. There has never been a legal requirement for a ballot to transfer to an ALMO as the ownership of the stock remains with the council. It was always considered to be good practice to hold such ballots and to engage with as many tenants as was practically possible. The council did this for the 2004 transfer but not for the 2014 transfer back.

"A timetable was made and a provisional date for a ballot to return to in-house management was seen in the agenda (item 7) for the Corporate Select Committee on 17th April 2012. The suggested date for the ballot was March 2013.

"Reference was made to the DCLG guidance at the time that stated that councils should undertake similar consultation to change their housing management arrangements as they did to put them in place originally.

"The DCLG was so concerned that the then Housing minister Andrew Stunell wrote to all stock owning authorities including the High Peak in December 2011 to remind them of this expectation. There was no ballot.

"The Council, in my opinion, made little effort consulting with tenants over the transfer back in-house.

"Elderly tenants (those most likely to respond but least likely to respond online) were invited into draughty community centres on cold winters’ evenings with snow and ice on the ground. A 79% agreement was claimed by the Council until Councillor Haken worked out that this was 79% of less than 5% that had responded. You may recall that one of your colleagues made reference to that infamous advert for cat food.  (HPT Ed - for younger readers, this is where the nonsensical phrase '8 out of 10 cats' comes from)

"It is inconceivable that the transfer to HPCH would have been signed off by DCLG on these figures ergo the consultation was inadequate.

"Tenants I spoke to at the time were mostly unaware that anything substantial was occurring. Tenants didn't generally realise that their peers in Sheffield had demanded and received a ballot before returning to the council. No mention either that other councils such as Wolverhampton were extending their ALMO agreements.

"I got the distinct impression that HPCH staff had been told to avoid talking about the transfer back.

"I welcome the commitment to develop and implement a proper business and investment plan and sincerely hope that the new administration will, not only usher in a new era of transparency, but also acknowledge the Value for Money that the Resident Involvement budget provides."

Yours Sincerely,

Mick Renshaw
Whaley Bridge (address supplied)




Mick added the following in his covering note to HPT: 

"High Peak Councillor Emily Thrane wrote in the Buxton Advertiser on 18th June that `Any transfer (of the council’s housing stock) has to be supported by tenants through a ballot`. She was, I believe, referring to a transfer of ownership and not management (i.e. to an ALMO) although this is unclear. I am awaiting a response to my e-mail (attached).

"Section 173 of the Localism Act 2011 gave new found financial freedoms from April 2012 to stock-owning councils. Bringing the management of the council housing back in-house suddenly became a much more attractive proposition especially if you could come up with ways to pull money through the ring-fence by recalculating the cost of core democratic services and recharging the Housing Revenue Account."