Hucknall Labour councillor says changes to way council handles petitions 'don't go far enough'

Petitions delivered to Ashfield District Council will now get more time to be heard and debated after the rules were changed at the authority’s AGM.

Monday, 30th May 2022, 9:55 am

The new proposals will now see the amount of time lead petitioners can speak extended and allow more councillors to speak in the subsequent debate.

But Labour’s Kier Morrison (Lab), said the changes didn’t go far enough and said the process was still ‘unrealistic, unachievable, didn’t encourage debate and still required campaign groups to ‘jump over too many hurdles to earn a legitimate fair crack of the whip in the council chamber’.

The rules had been unchanged for more than 20 years, leaving residents increasingly frustrated.

Coun Lee Waters (left) says the changes show the council is being transparent and listening to residents, but Coun Keir Morrison says the changes don't go far enough

And things came to a head last December during the controversial meeting for the petition against the council’s draft plans to build 3,000 new homes at Whyburn Farm was delivered.

After lead petitioner Mandy Shaw made her speech in presenting the petition, only three councillors, Coun Lee Waters, Coun Dave Shaw and Coun John Wilmott, all Ashfield Independents and all representing Hucknall North, were chosen to speak by the meeting chairman.

This led to fury from councillors from other parties, notaby Coun Chris Baron (Con), who represents Hucknall West, who claimed he had put his hand up to speak before anyone and simply been ignored by the chairman.

This, in turn, led to accusations of stage-management by the Ashfield Independents, and to one of the Whyburn campaigners accusing them of ‘not giving a fig about democracy’.

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Following on from that, however, Coun Waters, chairman of the council’s standards and personnel appeals, promised to implement changes and at last week’s council AGM, the new proposals agreed were:

The amount of time a lead petitioner had to present their case to council to be increased from five minutes to 10 minutes.

The amount of time to debate the petition to be increased from 15 minutes to 30 minutes.

The amount of councillors who could speak per petition to be increased to 10 per meeting.

Coun Waters said: “It’s critical that we, as a council, are completely transparent and show we listen to residents

"What we are doing this evening is showing that we are doing exactly that.

"By extending the time that councillors can respond to resident’s concerns and reducing the time limit to respond to three minutes – we are showing that this council has listened to residents’ concerns

It will allow for at least 10 councillors to respond to petitions so that residents can be satisfied that members are listening to their concerns.

“The rules that this council works under have to be rightly changed as we listen to residents.

"The constitutional rules were set about 30 years ago, of course, when this council was a very different place.

"Now, we want to ensure that every single concern can be addressed and following concerns expressed in December, we have acted swiftly to change the way we run meetings.”

But Coun Morrison, who abstained from the vote said: “The reason I didn’t vote for it was I didn’t think it went far enough.

"They’ve extended the debate time to half an hour, well that’s clearly not long enough.

"The other thing is the threshold for the amount of signatories that need to go on a petition for it to be debated by the council is still too high and unreasonable and unrealistic.

"The petition scheme also still requires any petitions that are submitted to the council to be done through the council’s online portal, which is clunky, un-user friendly and convoluted and is just another layer of bureaucracy to hinder campaign groups who want to put petitions together.”

Coun Waters countered: “This is the first I have heard about Coun Morrison’s concerns – he didn’t raise any of this when he spoke briefly at the meeting.

"In a previous life, he was a senior councillor on the Labour-run council.

“Maybe his laissez-faire attitude to all this explains why until I took action, the council’s petition scheme was restrictive and, in my view, hampered debate.

"Coun Morrison also knows that, at any time, he can call a vote on unlimited debate.

"I’m surprised he doesn’t know this and have requested that councillors receive additional training.”