Saturday, 3 June 2017

How Hemingbrough became one of the most publicly scrutinised Parish Councils in Britain (1)

A former H-SWAG (Hemingbrough Sewerage Works Action Group) Member concerned about new Planning Applications around Orchard End asked for a re-run of this series.  It has been sanitised.    

The Stench of Sewerage, Parish Council Deceit, Dishonesty and Blatant Lies. (1)

2009 proved to be a disastrous year for the Parish Council.  Armed services teach elite troops to maintain standards when the going gets tough.  That miserable collection of Councillors reverted to grubby traits at their first obstacle.

The Parish Council entered 2009 in complete disarray.  The Chairman had resigned his Office in late 2008 but remained on the Council despite the Vice-chairperson’s withering attack on the “hostility, mistrust, lack of professionalism and control of the meetings.” 

The Vice-chairman had resigned his Office around the same time but also remained on the Council.  He became angry when he found out Parish Councillors had referred colleagues to the official Standards Board.  He was upset when he wasn’t told of or invited to the clandestine meeting of a ‘select few Councillors and Clerk’ in Councillors Jan and Sue Strelczenie’s home to discuss Council business, especially ‘The Problem Member of the Public’, who kept writing down whatever Councillors said in public meetings, and the Hagg Lane Green Wars.  Even worse, he was ”astonished and bemused to be asked a question in Selby Town Centre - What is happening at Hemingbrough Parish Council - which prompted him to think of “the August meeting when elected representatives walked out”, and then he was contacted by a journalist. 

The courteous and thoughtful Parish Clerk was thinking about another job and maybe smarting from the criticism of his inability to control the warring factions and effectively perform his role of the Council’s ‘Proper Officer’. 

In December 2008, he agreed to tell new Chairman Jan Strelczenie the public must be given the opportunity to speak at every meeting “unless it is a closed meeting, which would be a rare event indeed.”  If only he could have predicted that he would have to eat his own words a few weeks later!

To make matters worse, Councillors ‘Blackadder’ and ‘He-who-likes-to-listen-to-his-own-voice’ had to play second-fiddle to the recently elevated Baldrick with his Napoleonic trait of believing he had the right to rule everybody, and everything. (Same old dog, same old tricks, but the public is wiser now.)

Instead of resigning from the Council, the former Chair and Vice-chairperson stayed put.  Knowledgeable observers detected the permanent, festering resentment that erupted from time to time. 

Yorkshire Water stepped Into this seething maelstrom of frustrated ambitions, petty jealousies and power-lust with a planning application for a £2 million pound sewerage works near Orchard End where ‘Incomers’ were said to live in new, large houses, not bungalows.

Yorkshire Water knew how to handle planning applications that would arouse local anxieties.  They must tell the local community of their intentions before they lodged their application with North Yorkshire County Council.  Hemingbrough village had expanded; more houses and more people meant more waste water and solids, an ageing sewerage works and new European regulations meant new works.  Unfortunately, they had no experience of dealing with the Hemingbrough Parish Council of 2007 – 2011.   

The snow of the previous week had melted away by 12 February 2009.  Parish Councillors sneaked into their delayed, private, closed-to-the-public meeting of Parish Councillors that had been set up by the Clerk, B Hopper.  From the word “Go”, the planning application that could affect the lives and property values of Orchard End and Landing Lane parishioners was mired in controversy that had all the hallmarks of this motley council crew.

The Hemingbrough Clerk and Chairman denied they had asked for it to be private and closed to residents – which would have been a rare event, indeed!  The Council leadership and Clerk were experienced in clandestine meetings that were closed to even the Vice-chairperson.  They knew an open meeting meant details posted on the Council notice boards, and at least one resident with his pointy sticks and pointed blog would turn up to watch and listen.

In June 2009, a Director of Yorkshire Water would confirm, in writing, “Yorkshire Water did not ask for the meeting to be in private, and simply asked for it to be held as soon after the initial contact as possible.”

The Hemingbrough Councillors couldn’t sneak through the meeting room door without controversy and the truth being challenged.  Surely, there could be no doubt about why they were there.

Clerk Hopper had been specific when he signed the Calling Notice on 30 January 2009.
“Hemingbrough Parish Council.  Notice of Special, (closed), Meeting of the Parish Council.  Dear Councillor you are invited to attend a special meeting of Hemingbrough Parish Council on Thursday 5th February in the Village Institute at 7.30pm.

The purpose of the meeting is to hear a representative of Yorkshire Water explain the company’s plans regarding changes to the local Water treatment Works and to comment on these plans, at this early stage.”   B. Hopper. Clerk to the Parish Council.”

This calling notice was headed ‘Hemingbrough Parish Council’ and referred to the ‘Meeting of the Parish Council’, twice, and the purpose of the meeting, in only 72 words.  It was clearly intended to be a “closed” meeting. [It took six months for a resident to locate a copy of that calling notice that Councillors were hiding.]

Yorkshire Water was certain it was meeting with the Parish Council as it confirmed in writing, “the meeting was called to provide Hemingbrough Parish Council with information about our proposals”

To be continued .../