Wednesday, 15 March 2017

“Beware the Ides of March” - Shakespeare

15th March - a date famous for treachery when ‘friends’ who were his enemies stabbed Julius Caesar to death. (The reason why Theresa May postponed the planned Brexit trigger calendar. 13th March, Parliamentary ping-pong, 14th Queen’s assent, 15th Trigger? - NO, Prime Minister!)  

Whatever you think of the Parish Council, it meets in public session every month and residents can quiz Councillors who asked for our votes.  It protects our interests, spends our taxes, should sort out local problems and identify and exploit local development opportunities.  The Council is open to public scrutiny: meetings can be filmed or recorded; accounts and minutes can be inspected and used in a law court.  In these regards, it is unlike village interest groups such as those concerned with the playing fields, Hagg Lane Green or the Hall for Hemingbrough.        

It is almost two years since the last Parish Council Elections.  A new team asked for our votes and most Councillors pledged “to work together for the benefit of the community”.  They offered a new start after eight dreadful years.  How are they doing half way through their term?

Here is my educated guess about what Chairman Jan Strelczenie sees when he chairs the Council each month?  He has not contributed any thoughts to this guess, which is based on my observations and video recordings.

He arrives early at the Methodist Church Hall for the public session of the Council.  If I am there, he knows I will record the Council by video-cam and may publish excerpts on YouTube.  Hemingbrough was one of the first parish councils filmed under new rules, if not the first.  Brian Hopper, the previous Parish Clerk, must be thanked for that.  He spilled the beans – Councillors are frightened of your written notes because they cannot remember what lies they have told you!  Chairman Strelczenie admits to having had concerns about the new video-cam rules.  To his credit, he has a firm grip on the Council and has not been embarrassed on the film recordings, so he must be doing well as Chairman. 

Our Parish Chairman is a rough-diamond, exemplary type of man getting things done in the British Army - a Sergeant Major.  My Uncle, a Regimental Sergeant Major, says all successful ones must be handy with their fists and their gobs, especially in Yorkshire. The recent issue of ‘No Village bus service if no yellow lines’ needed his no-nonsense style.  The needs of some gobby residents with personal reasons for or against yellow lines had to be balanced against the possible loss of our bus service.  Nobody else on the Council could have done it.  He brings his ‘no nonsense’ style to a variety of matters - The ‘20’s Plenty’ speeding on Landing Lane, the far end of the village entrance, village-wide heritage area, dog excrement, the cycle and footpath to Brackenholme.   

When Strelczenie takes the Council Chair and looks at the other ten Councillors, maybe “Dad’s Army” enters his mind.  No Village Plan.  Nobody there capable of writing one.  Remnants of the disastrous Councils that preceded this one.  Stakes that lie outside the Council.  Thwarted political ambitions.  Too few Councillors committed to their pledge.  Could anyone else do better, or as well?  Another attempt to unseat him?

From his ‘team’ of Councillors, three remnants of the Old Guard did not offer the pledge to work together, even though that is expected.  Councillors Drew and Harrison sit at the table, mostly silent, with arms resolutely crossed.  Curmudgeonly Drew often seems to be sleeping, or maybe thinking ‘How soon can we get out of here?’  His redeeming feature is the occasional contribution, which is in excess of anything heard from Harrison.  Their body language shrieks of lack of enthusiasm and involvement.  The genial Councillor Sedman, when his working shifts permit, says very little at all!

Maybe Strelczenie looks at Vice-Chairman, Bob Procter.  By title, a Councillor serving in the Chairman’s absence, a person who assists him, his second-in-command, number two or right-hand man.  From the public seats, there is little evidence of that, maybe it is the same from the Chairman’s seat?  ‘Antipathy’ springs to mind.

Procter is most lively when describing ‘The Hall for Hemingbrough’ project.  Residents may think the idea of a Village Hall should have something to do with the Parish Council.  It does not, even though village businesses and church fund raising could be damaged!  In the first year of this Council regime, a new Village Hall was not discussed in the Council until a resident asked ‘Why not?’  Facebook was the preferred way Procter communicated with the residents.  The Parish Council appeared to have no place in the early development of a new community hall.  

Procter’s short monthly update appears on the Council agenda each month.  Strangely, it is included in a list of Council activities, as if to give it greater legitimacy, despite the Chairman’s remarks of ‘IT’S NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PARISH COUNCIL’.

In January, the Council had to discuss “Outline application for residential development of up to 21 dwellings on land to the east of Street Record, School Road, Hemingbrough.”  It is a vital subject for residents.  Together with another planning application, 40+ plus houses may be built near the Howden entrance to the village.  That entrance is notorious for anyone slowing down on the busy trunk road to turn left.  Should the Council endorse the application?  Should that nearby village entrance be improved, maybe with a roundabout?  Is it safe?  If not, how will another 40 houses affect traffic past the schools and in Finkle Street? Is it outside the permitted building area?  Will ‘Section 106’ money from the developers finance a roundabout, or another Parish Council community project?

When the Chairman called the item, his Vice-Chairman, together with his partner, Councillor Carstairs, and Councillor Davidson left the room.  Apparently, they thought they had conflicting interests arising from their private ‘The Hall for Hemingbrough’ venture.  

Will the trio be competing with the Parish Council for ‘Section 106’ funds?  If their project ever sees the light of day, and is at that end of the village, will they just ignore the extra traffic on School Road?  A quarter of the Parish Council unable to discuss the vital interests of residents is not good! 

When Chairman Strelczenie dealt with the sudden departure of the trio, maybe he thought of the Council meeting in May last year when Councillors Procter, Carstairs, Davidson and Chilvers voted to replace him with Procter taking the Chair.   

Maybe he recalled that Councillor Procter is the Council’s ‘Yorkshire Local Councils Association (Selby Branch) Rep’ & ‘Community Engagement Forum Rep’, and Councillor Davidson is the ‘Hemingbrough Institute & Playing Fields Committee Rep’, the ‘Community Engagement Forum Rep’ and the ‘Yorkshire Local Councils Association (Selby Branch) Rep’. 

From the Public seats, and maybe from the Chairman’s seat, the Councillors appearing fully engaged with Council business, and their election pledge, even if they have different opinions, are Councillor Chilvers, Kinsella, Stebbings, Strelczenie and Terry – five from eleven.  It is not good enough.  

Councillors will by now be thinking of the May 2017 Council meeting when they must vote for officers and committee members for the coming year.  

If Councillor Strelczenie remains as Parish Chairman, he needs a new, fully committed Vice Chairman and more Councillors enthusiastically doing what they were elected to do!