Campaigners disappointed at council’s decision not to pursue complaint by 104 people against cabinet member for transport, Anthony Clarke
Campaigners have reacted with fury to a council decision not to pursue a complaint by more than a-hundred people about comments made on live radio by Cabinet member Anthony Clarke in which he said that the two sites chosen by the council for Bath’s newest Park & Ride cannot be seen from ground level from the surrounding villages.
The vice chair of Batheaston parish council, Emma Adams, who was the lead complainant, said she was deeply disappointed at the decision, but not surprised. “This council is getting a name for itself for protecting its own, and for not ensuring that its officers and councillors are held accountable to those who elected them. These residents are, after all, the taxpayers who pay their salaries,” Ms Adams added.
“Sadly the response that we have received from the council’s deputy monitoring officer seems to be yet another example of the council having one set of standards for members of the public who disagree with what it’s doing or proposing, and another set of standards for councillors.”
In a complaint decision notice, signed by B&NES deputy monitoring officer, Michael Hewitt, the council said, concerning residents’ complaint that Cllr Clarke had made a factually inaccurate statement which could be construed as a deliberate attempt to mislead during an election period, that the issue of visibility was ‘one of interpretation’ and there was ‘little to be gained from an investigation into the factual merits’ of Cllr Clarke’s statement.
On the second complaint, that Cllr Clarke had given the radio interview the day before the Walcot by-election in contravention of regulations on pre-election purdah, the council said there were occasions where it was appropriate for councillors to respond during an election period to ‘important events outside its control’. Council officer Michael Hewitt said this was one such occasion. Cllr Clarke was asked to appear on BBC Radio Bristol to answer questions about the recently-revealed decision by Highways England that the proposed access to the council’s preferred site for the new Park & Ride on Bathampton Meadows was dangerous.
Campaigners have accused the council of using pre-election purdah to refuse to answer questions, or Freedom of Information requests, about the Park & Ride, the closure of the Central Library, and other contentious issues that have dogged the Conservative-led administration over the past year.
Three days after Councillor Clarke’s controversial interview on BBC Radio Bristol, campaigner and Bathampton resident Fiona Powell approached the council about asking a question about Cllr Clarke’s statement at an upcoming meeting of the council’s Conservative cabinet. Mrs Powell was told that she could not ask about Cllr Clarke’s statement ‘because it (her question) breached the purdah rule for speaking about a contentious issue’ during a pre-election period.
Mrs Powell said she had been outraged at the decision: ‘How can it be that Cllr Clarke can make a statement to the electorate about the visibility of the Meadows on regional radio, yet my question on the same issue is refused? This is one rule for Cabinet members, and one rule for the public, and that is not acceptable in a democratic society like ours.’
A-hundred-and-four residents signed the complaint to Bath & North East Somerset council about Cllr Clarke’s interview. Many sent in photographs of the views from their houses and from the river showing how visible both of the council’s preferred sites on the meadows are from the villages around.
Batheaston parish council vice chair Emma Adams said: “People were so upset that Cllr Clarke made this statement that was factually untrue. Hundreds of houses around this valley have views over the Meadows, and even from ground level, which is what Cllr Clarke says he was talking about, any Park & Ride here will permanently despoil the meadows for all those who live near them, or walk, run or cycle across them.”
“Most of the houses are on the sides of the valley overlooking it, but that is because these meadows are a flood plain and nobody, until now, has been foolish enough to build on them.”
“To say that any Park & Ride could be effectively screened was a seriously misleading statement that may well have influenced people during the West of England mayoral election and during the Walcot by-election. No amount of screening for example could hide a Park & Ride at night.”
“B&NES’s refusal to investigate this matter any further is yet another example of how this Conservative administration rides roughshod over people’s legitimate concerns about how this council is being run, without any regard for evidence or fact, or people’s opinions.”
Issued by the Bathampton Meadows Alliance