Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Hicks seeking to cancel major Launceston road safety schemes because I blogged that councillors had criticised him

Cornwall Council Cabinet member Graeme Hicks has told officers that vital road safety works in Launceston should be stopped because of a blogpost I wrote in which I highlighted how unhappy councillors from all parties were with his failure to turn up to a meeting.

Cllr Hicks also refused to turn up to a public meeting to discuss the adoption of Kensey Valley Meadow roads and sewers despite having promised to do so.

The works - a new crossing on St Thomas Road and one on Western Road as well as safety works on Newport Road - were included in a major Cornwall Council document called LTP3 - LTP stands for Local Transport Plan and the document sets out the priorities for the Council over the next 20 years.

The works were those that came out top of the list of local priorities after the consultation carried out by Launceston Road Safety Partnership, alongside crossings at Hurdon Way and Westgate Street. It was fantastic to see the hard work of the RSP rewarded by the Council's recognition that these schemes should be included in the first round of work. I had lobbied the Council to include these works and had even welcomed Cllr Hicks to see for himself why they were so urgent.

I don't care what Cllr Hicks thinks of me personally, or of my blog. But I think his position as a cabinet member is untenable if he is prepared to ditch safety schemes because he didn't like what people said about him in a meeting or my blog about it. Cllr Hicks has said injudicious things in the past and has been rapped over the knuckles as a result. But to mete out collective punishment on a town is just beyond the pale.

Ditching the St Thomas Road crossing also puts in jeopardy the multi-million pound Kensey Trail project which is the major Cornwall Council backed scheme to regenerate our town.

How things unfolded:

I wrote a blog entry which reported on a meeting of the Council's Parking Policy Panel at which it was reported that Cllr Hicks wanted to abolish the panel. Cllr Hicks was not present and a number of councillors from all parties criticised him for his absence.

An officer from the Council's communications team sent the text of the blogpost to Cllr Hicks.

Cllr Hicks then sent an email to senior staff, including Environment and Economy Director Tom Flanagan and Head of Policy and Communications Carole Theobald which included the following:

"Tom I am now refusing to help Alex Folkes until he refrains from putting such nonsense on his blog. Forget about me attending any meeting in respect to Kensley Vale and assisting in the inclusion of his schemes in LTP3"

Incidentally, the 'Kensey Vale' meeting he refers to was actually about the adoption of Kensey Valley Meadow and it went extremely successfully without him. It was disappointing that he wasn't there, however, as the Mayor of Launceston had turned up specially to discuss key issues with Cllr Hicks.

I am very grateful to Launceston Town Council for the support they have given me over this issue. Among those who voiced their opposition to Cllr Hicks' actions were Cllr John Conway (who stood in 2009 as a Conservative) and Cllr Graham Facks Martin (formerly the Conservative Leader of NCDC).

Full text of email traffic revealed by Cornish Guardian Freedom of Information request:

From: Hicks Graeme CC
Sent: 07 April 2011 20:41
To: Hewitt Patricia; Fishwick Jen; Theobald Carole; Flanagan Tom; Hicks Graeme CC; Moore Peter
Subject: RE: for information

Quite frankly I have had enough of his rantings and I believe we should respond to these posts.

Tom I am now refusing to help Alex Folkes until he refrains from putting such nonsense on his blog. Forget about me attending any meeting in respect to Kensley Vale and assisting in the inclusion of his schemes in LTP3.

Jen can you cancel my attendance at the Kensley Vale meeting?

Regards

Graeme

Graeme



Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.

-----Original Message-----
From: Hewitt Patricia <phewitt@cornwall.gov.uk>
Sent: 06 April 2011 17:26
To: Theobald Carole <ctheobald@cornwall.gov.uk>; Flanagan Tom <tflanagan@cornwall.gov.uk>; Hicks Graeme CC <ghicks@cornwall.gov.uk>; Moore Peter <pmoore@cornwall.gov.uk>

Subject: for information

<http://lansonboy.blogspot.com/>

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Abolition of Parking Panel

Cornwall Council's cabinet has decided to abolish the panel which looks at the issue of parking - it seems because the panel members (and chairman) have disagreed with the official cabinet line once too often.

I won't pretend to have always agreed with the Parking Panel. I think the new charges are ridiculous and will kill town centres. But I accept that they have gone about their work diligently and have been hamstrung by the changes to their remit imposed on them by the Cabinet. The key reason for the huge rises in Launceston - the demand by Cabinet that parking makes a certain profit and that the charges across Cornwall should be broadly equal - were imposed by the Cabinet.

The current work programme of the Panel is focussed on issues such as parking enforcement, waiting times and parking outside schools. All 'nitty-gritty' issues which require some in-depth work. One of the questions is whether anyone else will have the time to look at these issues in public or whether the work will now be done by officers behind closed doors.

There was considerable anger at today's meeting of the panel, especially at the complete lack of courtesy shown by Cabinet Member Graeme Hicks in failing even to turn up to explain the reasons for the abolition.

So what will replace the Parking Panel? We have no real idea as nobody was able to explain at today's meeting. Perhaps we will get the answer at the next Cabinet meeting. But I suspect that the main workload will fall on officers - hard-working but dealing with issues in secret. The key decisions will be taken by Cabinet members who don't understand the issue. At a recent meeting, Council Leader Alec Robertson insisted that the maximum rise in season tickets would be 10%. That's not true - here they will rise by more than 200% - and it shows a very worrying lack of understanding about a key impact on businesses and residents. And even the Cabinet member is not up to speed. He didn't even know that his budget was facing a £1.8 million shortfall.

Perhaps the real reason for the abolition of the Parking Panel is the independent streak shown by Parking Panel Chairman Cllr Andrew Wallis who has been a frequent critic of the administration. Cornwall Council petty and vindictive? Who'd have thought it?

UPDATE - Read the Cornish Guardian's story here.

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