Thursday, 21 May 2015

Belper Town Council meeting - Tuesday 19/05/2015

Painful as it was for our Belper Town Council correspondent to attend this first, post election meeting attend it he did. The town council is now completely Conservative; a sea of blue with the 4 Labour and 1 Ukip  councillors losing their seats. On the night 15 Tories sat around the table with one apology for non-attendance.

First the Parish Council meeting. There is an annual meeting of the Parish which precedes the Town Council meeting and this was duly held. For all practical purposes the parish and the town are one entity but the significance of the parish AGM is that residents have the chance to address the council on anything they choose. Outgoing councillors took up that chance to greet or say farewell but it became more interesting when John Morrissey (well respected ex GP and governor on Amber
John Morrissey
Valley South NHS Foundation Trust) questioned the Belper Town Council response to the CH&I report into the conduct of the town council when they ousted Deborah Biss from the position of Mayor and suspended both her and Councillor Fisher. The independent CH&I report was commissioned by the borough council Standards Committee in response to complaints by Councillors Biss and Fisher and cost the taxpayer £3,306.60 plus VAT, a sum that the borough has asked Belper Town Council to pay but the town council has refused. The town council has also refused to allow the report to be made public. Obviously it is this state of affairs that prompted John Morrissey to speak out at the meeting. What adds intrigue to this is the fact that ex-Councillor Fisher also spoke and urged the council to stop acting illegally and try to conduct future business in a legal manner.

What is contained in the CH&I report and why does the council want it to remain secret?


Now to the Town Council meeting:

Before the meeting starts there is a chance for members of the public to speak on items listed on the agenda or, as was the case at this meeting, for an invited person to speak on a subject of relevance to the council. The invited speaker on this occasion was a representative of the Civic Forum (sorry name of person not recorded) who merely stated that the Neighbourhood Plan committee (group) was progressing and seemed to encompass Transition Belper plus a town councillor hopefully to be assigned to that committee (it was formerly Deborah Biss). BelperStuff hopes that the Neighbourhood Plan initiative will become more democratic as many in the town have no idea what this entails or how their views and perspective will be taken into consideration as the plan is formed (this blog has been contacted by those who have such fears). Belper Neighbourhood Plan application on AVBC website

Obviously not too much can be expected of the first meeting but it is the chance to set out what the objectives are for the coming year. Councillor Nelson, the leader of the Tories therefore leader of Belper Town Council listed 2 main policy objectives:


Mr Potato Head
  1. To improve on the Belper in Bloom project because last year's second place in a floral town competition was not good enough.
  2. Mr Potato Head will return following a world tour (I kid you not).
I was truly astonished that the Tories had no other policy initiatives for the coming year nor indeed any overarching ambition for the 4 years they will be in office until the next town elections in 2019.

To be fair there was mention of the attempt to ring fence £100k for the Tea House in the River Gardens which was voted on at the last, pre-election town council meeting (which was, incidentally, attended by 7 councillors - outnumbered by the public gallery). Despite that vote Councillor Nelson seemed less than certain about this. It was difficult to work out if he was hopeful that the ring-fencing would happen or if the ring-fencing would be in any way useful; his comment was ambiguous. The Tea House project was last costed at £600k and requires Amber Valley Borough Council to find an additional £500k to top up the £100k from the Belper Council. What will the new Tory led AVBC decide?

John Nelson
Councillor Nelson also read out the outgoing Mayor's report but this blog does not have a copy of the report (yet) and will reserve comment until the details contained in the report can be read in conjunction with the annual financial statement for 2014/15 once it is available.

The new Mayor is Dan Booth, the Deputy Mayor Councillor Spendlove.

The meeting was dominated by Councillor Nelson as no other Tory voice was to be heard (if that statement is wrong then, as usual on this blog the chance to respond by sending a comment is open to you). It has been noted that he was concerned about the future of parking in the town but came up with no ideas as to how this was to be addressed other than to comment that the borough council had graciously offered to allow the use of the Field Lane land that had been purchased by AVBC (for £1.6 million) for overflow parking. I wonder how much each additional car parking space costs?

John Owen
The meeting was also addressed by John Owen, the Belper representative on Derbyshire County Council (DCC) who was given a very frosty reception by Councillor Nelson; yes, you've guessed it, John Owen is a Labour Councillor in a Labour controlled County Council. He reported on County matters and listed specific items pertinent to Belper. His report was so detailed that it has been decided to examine it more closely in a separate post. If an antidote was needed to Mr Potato Head then John Owen was surely it.

One item that has to be noted was that the DCC plan to build a new old peoples facility and library on the Thornton's factory site in Derwent Street has just received planning permission. To quote Councillor Owen, "Extensive work has already been carried out to determine whether building a scheme combining extra care housing and specialist residential care, with a library and facilities including rooms for community use, would be viable in the town ........... it is planned that the existing factory frontage will be incorporated into the design". It seems that this scheme will be going ahead and DCC has allocated the capital expenditure. Researching this after the meeting it became evident that Belper Town Council opposed the planning application. Now why would they do that? This also warrants a separate post to explore the proposal and why the town council are opposed to much needed improvements to care for the elderly and library and study facilities that will also breathe life into a derelict area of the town.

Yes, there are quite a few issues to follow up and BelperStuff plans to do just that. For the moment though, the impression left on the mind after Tuesday's meeting is of Belper Town Council with their heads full of flowers and demonstrating their plans for the town with Mr Potato Head.

An after posting comment: I must apologise for failing to mention that the council is now dominated by men .............. 15 men and 1 woman. Oh and that the budget for 2015/16 is £238k.

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