Wymondham Mayor Dianne Fernee
A furious and ultimately farcical town council meeting tonight. People who read this might remember that I wrote a blog post with the title A Disgraceful Meeting (7 February 2012) It was about the affair of the local King's Head Meadow, a prime site in the centre of town, where the football team play. Briefly, the football pitch was wanted by a national supermarket chain and there was talk that the chain had already agreed a purchase with the council without any public consultation.
The earlier blog gives a good deal more detail about the background. That meeting was wild and tightly packed, with standing room only. This is what happened then.
The special meeting tonight is held in a hall clearly too small to accommodate all the people wanting to attend. An interesting decision. We are dangerously crowded, mostly standing and there are people waiting outside. The mood is ugly, or ugly-ish
The public are allowed to ask questions, none of which is answered in any way that might be considered an answer. There are many questions involving timing and the keeping of records. Those very few responding from the council have, er, no records of when things happened.
The one answer that is eventually given about timing quotes some apparent stipulation that things must be done one particular way, that that way requires an immediate answer, and that time is so pressing that the supermarket's application must be pushed through now to compete with two unnamed other possible sites.
Two ex-councillors, very politely, query the question of timing and procedure. Their experience is different. Their experience is not ancient but very recent: their queries are not answered.
The chief question of why the council want to sell the space to the supermarket is never answered, though all councillors are pressed to answer it. Almost all sit there like dummies.
The affair goes on. The supermarket in question has withdrawn and a different one has taken another site, not quite so central. Nevertheless people continue to talk of corruption and secret deals and the fate of the meadow is far from settled. One independent councillor, Andy Gardiner, has pursued the matter from the beginning and, on his site, Wymondham Asks Why, explains what the latest problem is. He has long been a thorn in the council's side. You can link to the back story through his website.
The latest problem is the manipulation of the agenda to prevent certain questions being asked by the public. But something has been happening in the background to the extent that the current mayor, Dianne Fernee, takes the microphone before the meeting proper and announces that she will stand no nosense and will not be interrupted.
She is not interrupted, but when, after apologies it comes to Item 2, Declarations of Interest, Andy Gardiner weighs in, partly because the council have been taking some action against him outside the meeting, and the mayor has just made this extraordinary statement which, he says, amounts to a declaration of interest that prevents him getting a fair hearing on the matter of the King's Head Meadow which is coming up as Item 5.
What is more it seems, according to his website, that the public are not going to be able to ask any questions about the minutes or the issue of the Kings Head Meadow itself. The agenda, as I have it before me, does not limit the questions only to following items so either there was a misunderstanding or the agenda has been modified.
Gardiner is insistent that his arguments cannot be dealt fairly by the mayor. He will not be quiet on this. He does not want her in the chair and asks for her resignation. He quotes standing orders to show that she has acted unconstitutionally. The mayor is clearly exasperated and eventually stands up, tears off her chain of office and storms out. The deputy chair attempts to continue but without hope. A few minutes later Gardiner leaves the meeting.
In another five minutes the deputy chair has given up and abandons the meeting. No meeting then.
The public - some fifty or so - are bemused. One elderly man keeps shouting at the deputy mayor. He thinks it is a disgrace. He thinks the council is a disgrace.
I help to put away the chairs and talk to some friends who were there last time. I am trying to understand what has just happened. The talk is still of corruption. I don't know whether the press was present but it should have been.
Who says Norfolk is a quiet backwater? (Actually, I did once.) It's much less of a backwater than it once was. And it's not so quiet either.
If anyone cares to write in and comment about what they thought was happening please feel free to do so, always minding the law.