Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Voice of some of the people - not all

I AM the voice of the people. I do not have an opinion but I have been told to take a strong stance on this.

So said Councillor Rikey Austin during yet another emotive debate on the future of the Three Cups at last week’s council meeting.

Err? I don’t think so. “Voice of some of the people” would have been a more appropriate and realistic stance. No one doubts Rikey’s sincerity and passion in representing the views of those who desperately want the Cups returned to its former use as an hotel.

That is not a view I share and I believe there is a significant group in the town who think likewise, so I think it’s a slight exaggeration to claim to be “the voice of the people”.

Rikey has not wavered in her determination to save the Three Cups and, along with others, is to be congratulated for organising protests that eventually brought owners Palmers to the negotiating table after the building had laid derelict for two decades and more.

But it’s stretching the point to incredulity to maintain that she does not have an opinion and is only passing on the views of the townspeople.

Later in the meeting her opinion manifested itself into an impassioned plea for the Three Cups to be saved and returned to hotel status.

She was also the co-author, with Lucy Campbell, of a well thought out report which went before the council and was approved in part.

So Rikey clearly does have an opinion and has been vociferous in  expressing it since the Cups issue has been to the fore, which is her right and which her supporters expect.

The town is pretty well split on whether they want the Cups to be an hotel again or whether they would like to see Palmers given the go ahead for their current plans. 

At one time there was talk of having a town referendum, as happened with the Marine Theatre a few years ago, but that would be expensive and the result would not be binding because the town council does not own the building.

Even if 99 per cent of Lyme’s population voted in favour of the Three Cups being turned back into an hotel, it would still not happen.

Palmers dismissed that possibility some time ago because it would be financially unviable to do so. They have come up with another scheme which will see the frontage of the building protected with a mixture of apartments, houses, holiday lets, retail and a high class restaurant likely to attract celebrity ownership because of the glorious views over Lyme Bay.

Their amended plans along these lines go on view to the public on June 13th.

I believe the council should have waited to see what amendments have been made to their original plans before discussing the report from Councillors Austin and Campbell and after final plans have gone before the town planning committee.

We were left with the bizarre position where some councillors declined to vote for fear of pre-determination and others did not.

Those who did not vote were clearly against some of the proposals but had they done so, the motions would have been defeated. 

So we end up with a position that some decisions on this important issue have been passed by a minority of councillors.

The difficult question of predetermination should have been sorted at officer level before the meeting and the councillors advised accordingly.

The main resolution agreed by all councillors was that the Three Cups be brought back into productive use without further undue delay.  The whole town agrees with that.

Judge this man by his 19 years in office

I WAS both saddened and disappointed to hear that Mallory Hayter had stood down as chairman of Charmouth Parish Council after holding the position for a record 19 years.  It would have been fitting had he continued to complete his 20th year.

Councillor Hayter decided not to seek election at the council’s annual meeting last week following the furore that surrounded the appointment of his son-in-law to works manager which led to the resignation of six councillors and much criticism aimed at the chair. District councillor Jane Bremner has now taken on the role.

The village will now go to the polls on June 11th when eight candidates, including two who resigned - Jane Morrow and Andy Peters - to fill the six vacancies. At a stormy annual parish meeting back in March Councillor Hayter strongly defended his position and advised any parishioners who thought the law had been broken, or the council’s code of conduct breached, to contact the police or West Dorset District Council. To my knowledge, no action is being taken by either authority, which tells its own story.

I don’t intend to get embroiled in the rumpus which has divided the village but what I do know from years of covering Charmouth Parish Council in the past is that Mallory Hayter has acted in an extemporary manner during his years in the chair, always putting Charmouth to the fore.

I have covered council meetings from the smallest Devon village to Tower Hamlets in London when the BNP were on the march and I have never come across a fairer chairman than Councillor Hayter.

I have no doubt that Jane Bremner, an excellent district councillor, will carry out her duties as the new parish chairman with dignity and efficiency,  but we should not dismiss the many years of dedicated service that Mallory Hayter has given to Charmouth.

It is unlikely that his feat of occupying the chair for 19 years will ever be surpassed. His record should be judged on those 19 years, and not tinged by an unfortunate squabble.

Councillor Hayter will continue as a councillor, which is a good thing because his experience would be sorely missed had he decided to stand down completely.

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