Posted: 09.12.20 at 15:01 by Francesca Evans
Colyton Parish Council chairman Andrew Parr survived a motion of no confidence by one vote this week, following another ill-tempered debate over the Neighbourhood Plan.
Colyton Parish Neighbourhood Plan - which is being made to guide future sustainable change, growth and development within the parish - has been plagued with controversy over the past five years, with claims of “turf wars” between Colyton and Colyford, a mass resignation of volunteers back in 2016 and, most recently, parish councillor Howard West threatening to stand down.
And things didn’t get much easier during this week’s virtual meeting of Colyton Parish Council, when a vote of no confidence in long-standing chairman Andrew Parr was motioned, following an argument over the minutes of the previous meeting when the Neighbourhood Plan had been discussed.
When asked to approve the minutes of the previous parish council meeting, held in November, Cllr Parr said he believed them to be incorrect.
The minutes reported that a decision was made to hold all comments submitted during the public consultation on the draft Neighbourhood Plan, until the consultation period was over, and they would then be shared with parish councillors and members of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Committee.
Cllr Parr said this was not what was agreed by the council; he understood that parish councillors would not see the comments until after the consultation period had ended, but the steering committee members would receive them so they could continue with their work.
Cllr West argued that the minutes were an accurate record, saying he had proposed that the comments were withheld from all until December 14 - when the consultation ends - and this had been seconded by Cllr Paul Arnott and unanimously agreed by the council.
“If you don’t agree, you are accusing people like myself and the responsible officer [parish clerk] of telling untruths,” he added.
Cllr Colin Pady said it was “imperative” that the steering committee, of which he is a member, received the comments to allow them to continue their work, particularly the professional consultant who had been appointed by the council specifically to advise on the plan.
Cllr Steve Real said it was “disgusting” to withhold the comments and it would put their own consultant in a difficult position.
Cllr Ray Watts said the consultant was in no different position to parish councillors, and it was agreed at the last meeting that withholding the comments gave everyone the same starting point when the consultation period ended.
Cllr Parr then asked for other views on whether the minutes were correct or not, at which point members of the public - who are not allowed to speak during the main business of council meetings - interrupted, saying they had watched and listened to the vote at the last meeting.
Cllr Parr asked the public not to speak, saying: “This is not public question time, this is the parish council meeting now.”
Resident Rob Kenyon replied: “Yes we know that, we’re watching it, and we’d like to see an honest and open one.”
Cllr Pady and Cllr Joy Gardiner said they both agreed with the chairman; their understanding was that they would share comments with the steering committee but members of the parish council would not have view of the comments until after the consultation period closed.
Cllr Pady added that it was “very wrong” for the council to withhold comments from the steering committee, who had been given a mandate to do a job, and some councillors were “trying to put a hitch in the way of this”.
Cllr Arnott, who is also leader of East Devon District Council, said it had been unanimously agreed that it was right for the the parish council and steering committee to receive the comments simultaneously.
He commented: “If you are trying to re-litigate this by amending the minutes without justification, I think this is a really dangerous moment for this council.
“I think it’s really unfortunate that the same comments are being brought up again that are divisive, from Cllr Pady and Cllr Real to an extent; this constant implication that people don’t trust the steering committee or the clerk, over and over again as if the parish council is trying to be the backseat driver. It’s absolute nonsense.”
Cllr Parr said there was another view of how the discussion went, to which Cllr Arnott replied: “That’s Colyton Parish Council all over, isn’t it? I think you’re walking a very dangerous path here.”
Cllr Parr said that they had to consider both sides of the argument and some councillors may argue that Cllr Arnott was trying to “steamroller them into something they didn’t vote for”.
“Are you alleging that I am trying to steamroller a policy through?” asked Cllr Arnott.
Cllr Parr replied: “There’s two different views and we’re going to vote on it because we can’t agree.”
Cllr Arnott then accused Cllr Parr of “lobbying”, asking if it was true that he had contacted council members prior to the meeting to “bring them to his view”.
Cllr Parr said he had asked for some members’ views but had never tried to persuade anyone and he respected their own opinions.
Cllr Arnott advised Cllr Parr that if he wanted to propose that the minutes were incorrect, he find another councillor to do so, adding: “If you propose this from the chair I think your credibility as the chair of this council is utterly in question.”
Cllr Parr did not take his advice and proposed that the minutes were incorrect and should be amended, seconded by Cllr Real.
Cllr Arnott then argued that councillors who also sat on the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Committee, including Cllrs Real and Pady - should declare an interest before voting. Cllr West also suggested that Cllr Parr should declare an interest, as his wife Helen Parr also sat on the steering committee.
“Good try but I’m not going to do that,” Cllr Parr replied.
After consulting the council’s own standing orders, Cllr Ray Watts also advised Cllr Parr against making the proposal himself that the minutes incorrect. Instead, Cllr Real made the proposal, seconded by Cllr Gardiner.
During the vote a member of the public, Ian Priestly, attempted to vote against the proposal despite having no voting rights in a parish council meeting. Cllr Real pointed this out to the chairman, to which Mr Priestly replied: “But I know what I saw, Steve, and heard.”
The eventual vote was split, leaving Cllr Parr with the casting vote, and he agreed that the minutes were incorrect.
Cllr Eddie Jones commented: “This is not democracy!”
Cllr West added: “Utterly ridiculous.”
Cllr Arnott questioned whether an alternative paragraph was being put forward for the minutes.
Cllr Parr said, as per Cllr Real’s proposal, it had now been agreed that the public consultation comments would be withheld from parish councillors, but would be forwarded to the Neighbourhood Plan steering committee and this would be added to the minutes.
Cllr Arnott said that by doing this they would be fictionalising the minutes of the previous meeting.
Cllr West then put forward a vote of no confidence in chairman Cllr Parr, commenting: “We cannot allow this council to carry on in this manner.”
Cllr Parr replied: “There are two sides to this argument and people like Steve and Joy, who put forward this proposal, don’t believe that they voted on what you believe, and I agree with them. There’s two different views and I don’t see why we shouldn’t hold our views.”
The motion of no confidence was put to the council but failed with four votes to five.
Before moving on, Cllr John Hay complained about members of the public interrupting the meeting, asking: “Can we please stop these people from Colyford butting in our meeting?”
Cllr Parr asked members of the public once again not to interrupt, to which one resident replied: “People from Colyton are allowed to interrupt though, that’s alright.”
The draft Colyton Neighbourhood Plan, which has been five years in the making, went out to public consultation in October for a 10-week period.
The plan can be viewed on the Colyton Parish Council website or a hard copy is available to view at the council offices in the town hall, mornings only by prior arrangement (call 01297 552460). A copy is also available in the porch of St Michael’s Chapel of Ease in Colyford, open 9am to 5pm Monday to Saturday.
You can make comments on the plan preferably by completing an online form on the parish council website or by completing a paper form and submitting it in the response box or posting or handing it in to Colyton Parish Council, Feoffees Town Hall, Market Place, Colyton, EX24 6JR.
Alternatively, you may submit your written comments in any form, but you must include your name, organisation (if applicable) and postcode for these to be accepted. All comments must be received by 5pm on Monday, December 14.
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