A Long Night

It’s been a long time since a Rochford District Council went on until after 11:30 pm. It’s been 15 years since the Conservatives were outnumbered by the opposition. It’s been a while since a decision was made on the chairman’s casting vote. It was the first time ever a public petition forced an item on the agenda. Tuesday had all of that.

The evening began on a subdued note, as we heard that Conservative leader had been taken had been taken ill and admitted to hospital – though he left hospital on Tuesday afternoon. We wish him well for a speedy recovery.

It was apparent that due to absences , the Tory majority over the opposition was  slimmer than normal. (The opposition being the Greens, Lib Dems, Rochford Residents,  UKIP and Rayleigh Independent Jamie Burton)

The first  item was “Questions On Notice”  from Chris Black on planning. He asked how many planning enforcement cases were outstanding and the portfolio holder Ian Ward told him 265. Chris then asked whether Ian thought the planning enforcement department had enough resources in terms of staff or money (there are only two people) and got a rather waffly reply….

Next came the debate on Francis Cottee Lodge. The member of the public who spoke presented her case well.  Residents group leader John Mason proposed that the matter be referred to the Review Committee for proper scrutiny. This was opposed by the Conservatives, some of whom who argued that although the whole issue had been handled badly there shouldn’t be any delay – in case Sanctuary decided to use the building to house homeless people from other councils instead.

However all the opposition members felt that there should be a proper examination of the whole issue. Normally that wouldn’t have meant very much, we would just be outvoted by the Tory majority as usual. However some of the Tories had to declare interests because of their involvement in housing and had to leave the meeting. That meant that for the first time since 2002 they weren’t in a majority – and they opposition won the vote by 18 votes to 15.

Imperfect handling of important council projects was probably the theme of the entire evening.

After this we had a quick debate on a motion from John Mason asking for the council to have a presentation and a debate on the proposed changes to the local NHS. This was agreed, and a date will be fixed for this. Interestingly Chris Black and John Mason were the only councillors in the evening to say they were against the downgrading of Southend A&E.

Soon it was time for some private and confidential items – an unusually high number of these. There was one in particular that the opposition  felt shouldn’t be in “Private and Confidential”. We forced a recorded vote on this . Interestingly the soft-spoken Tory councillor for Wheatleys , John Griffin, rebelled from the Tory whip and voted with the opposition on this. However Jamie Burton voted with the Tories , leading to an 18-18 tie. The council chair , Conservative Carole Weston then used her casting vote to enforce going into private and confidential.

So we can’t tell you what the biggest item on the agenda was – because  it was discussed in private and confidential and we would be in huge legal trouble if we even gave a hint what it was about.