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Imagine you were in a nearby DIY store and saw a local councillor not being allowed to buy a paintbrush or a hammer, because the District Council Constitution didn’t actually say that they could.
You would think it was pretty odd. But something like this has recently happened. Not with a physical tool like a paintbrush or a hammer, but a procedural tool that James Newport wanted to use.
He wants to use the procedure of creating a public petition about public conveniences and link it to the official council website. But the council won’t let him because he’s a councillor.
James, like quite a lot of people, is concerned about the District Council’s proposals for our public conveniences. The District Council has a plan to rent out the old Rayleigh public conveniences for commercial use, install some smaller replacement toilets next to them, and then get Rayleigh Town Council to pay for the upkeep. We have doubts about this – to us it makes more sense to renovate the existing ones.
James wanted to organise a public petition on this, linked to the official council website as with previous petitions. But he has been blocked from doing so (and we are still disputing this with the council officers). He’s been told that the petitions system wasn’t intended for councillors to use, and that we have other procedural tools at our disposal. But the procedural tool that James thinks he needs is a petition.
However Richard Lambourne , who isn’t a councillor, has started one requesting the council to “Refurbish the existing building and continue to maintain it under the Rochford District Council’s existing cleaning contract. We want to retain use of this building as a free to use public toilet.” . You can find it – and sign it – here. There’s also another petition there concerning Hockley’s conveniences.
We’ve looked at the council constitution, and it doesn’t state anywhere that councillors can’t create petitions, so as far as we’re concerned , that means we should be allowed to. If the public have a right to create a petition, nobody tells election candidates that if they win they will lose that right. We’ve discussed this with other Lib Dem councillors around the country, they agree with us and think the whole thing is bizarre.