Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The final curtain has come down...

I wrote the last two postings " do you remember when you used to play spot the ball " and "The whole thing descends into farce " a couple of days ago but I only decided to post them today.

Please read them both carefully. Because at yesterday's cabinet meeting, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council offered A SEVENTH explanation for not discussing the options for Coatham.

The 'official' version, and I say official because it was the version of things that was given at the cabinet meeting and therefore presumably minuted, was that the options for Coatham weren't going to be discussed because the cabinet, upon the request of opposition councillors, wanted to show opposition councillors from the Lib Dems, Conservatives and Independents the options first so that they could have their opinions taken into consideration and then a special cabinet meeting was to be held in approximately three weeks time, to discuss the options in public.

We were told by the cabinet that items for cabinet meetings change and alter all the time, this may be the case, but the reasons for either including or not including this item is what is in question here and the frequency of the council chopping and changing their minds, over whether or not to discuss these options in public yesterday, clearly shows that there is something that they are very unsure or worried about.

The Coatham issue was discussed at the very start of the meeting with a very bullish chairman George Dunning, appearing to try and provoke comment from myself and other members of our group from the off. He stated that a mistake had been made over the discussion of the Coatham options and that the options item was always going to be discussed in public, just not on that day. He went onto say that the council was prepared to let questions be asked by the public because they wanted to be open and transparent but then made an uncalled for, throw away statement in response to Charles Davis, to the effect that the council "were always prepared to talk to people even if those people didn't want to talk to them". This prompted Charles to ask the question who are you talking about? and say that he hoped that George Dunning wasn't talking about our group because we have never refused to talk to the council over this issue.

George Dunning said that he wasn't talking about us, but he didn't say who he had been referring to either? It was obvious that he was trying to make a snide remark but one can only guess as to why? He handed things over to Councillor Mark Hannon who then told us that there were two options for Coatham and that's when we learned that they weren't going to be discussed because of a request from the opposition to see them first before they were discussed publicly.

I remember thinking at the time that that excuse for not discussing the item yesterday was a bit odd as when did the councils ruling cabinet ever want to defer discussing a subject because the opposition asked them to? More than that, I thought that it was very odd that the ruling Labour/Independent cabinet should want to get the opinions of members of the opposition before making a decision about something? When have members of an opposition group ever been involved in the cabinet decision making process which is controlled by a different political group?

Or do we have a coalition of all parties just for this one issue, then it all goes back to normal again with the opposition having no say and having their opinions totally disregarded?

I stood up to talk.

I started by telling everybody in the room that I didn't want there to be any acrimony between the two groups anymore. I started to say that we had our point of view and the council had theirs over Coatham, but when I went onto say that we had only opposed something that ex MP Vera Baird had described as a disaster and George Dunning had described as tainted, I was immediately interrupted and shouted down by both George Dunning and Mark Hannon who said that and I quote " I was living in the past, I should move on, it was time to move on " and I wasn't able to proceed with what I had wanted to say.

They obviously didn't want these things to be said at a cabinet meeting in front of the press even though they are fact.

I attempted to explain that I had only been trying to set out the background and that I had to do that in order to say that these things aren't relevant now because it's time to move forward and come together. But throughout me even saying this, Mark Hannon was very forcefully asserting that our group had stopped the town having a baths, that there were two fantastic options on the table and that people should get behind them and that, and I quote, "people in Redcar were sick of you ( me )".

I did not rise to these unsubstantiated remarks and responded by saying that what people were sick of in Redcar was being shown a lack of respect by the council and treated with contempt.

I said they were sick of being shown a lack of respect by a Chief Executive Officer who refuses to respond to peoples genuine concerns in emails and letters that they send to her, they're sick of being given seven different versions of one single issue and they are sick of the council blaming other people for their mistakes. I ended by saying to him that the council have always been borrowing the money to build a swimming pool in Redcar, so why did they use it as a carrot to dangle to get people to go along with the houses that no-one wanted? And that if the council are borrowing fourteen million pounds to build a pool, then just get on and build it now, what are they waiting for, infact why have we had to wait for it so long when they're borrowing the money to build it?

At this point the chairman brought in Sheelagh Clarke who told us that she didn't want any acrimony either and that items for meetings change all the time. Another resident, John Wilkinson, had asked to speak and the chair had indicated that he could, but before he brought him in, he brought in councillor Dave McCluckie who moved that the item had been discussed long enough and that the meeting should move on, it was seconded and John wasn't allowed to make his comments or ask his questions.

After the meeting I spoke with the political editor of the Gazette Sandy Mackenzie who had been present throughout, it will be interesting to see his report in the paper.

When I was on my own later on yesterday, I sat and mulled over the last six years and how I felt now. I felt that for all of the highly questionable and exremely dubious things that have taken place over the issue of Coatham, that perhaps it was time to draw a line under things and just accept that no investigation is ever going to be carried out over the issue of the scandal known as the Coatham Enclosure Scheme.

All the main players and protagonists have all but left, the scheme has been abandoned and there are two new options on the table and not only that, the MP who was protecting the council and helping them whitewash the issue, has been ousted by an honest and decent Redcar Man. The will, the momentum to investigate the disgraceful things that have taken place here regarding Coatham has ebbed, and is ebbing still further away so I thought that perhaps it is time to let go?

Councillor Valerie Halton, a Conservative councillor from Guisborough, came to speak with Charlie after the meeting. She re-iterated that there were two options for Coatham and Charlie said so what are they? "Well, if you ask Ian Wardle he will tell you she replied, they're in the public domain" "Thats the thing Charlie responded, he won't". Councillor Halton then told us that the two options for Coatham were either to build a new leisure centre and pool or build a new leisure centre, pool and a new civic centre ( Town Hall ). If they were the options we thought, then why on earth all the secrecy? Why the chopping and changing and the yes the options are being discussed no they arent?

I have never spoken to Valerie Halton before. I have always gotten the feeling, on the odd occasion when we have been in the same room over the last six years, that she most definitely didn't want to. When she had told us what the options were, I spoke to her.

I told her that I had never had the pleasure of talking to her before, but that no matter what had happened in the past, as far as I was concerned it was in the past and that it was time to move on. I told her that they had had their point and we had had ours, that we had been advisaries but we always wanted what was best for Redcar and now that we had a blank canvass in Coatham, it was time to all make sure that we did.

I held out my hand in friendship and she shook it. I said and did the same with Mark Hannon.

For me, yesterday meant that the Coatham Enclosure campaign was over. It felt over. The battle to stop the houses blighting our coastline has been won and a new baths, something that I have wanted since the last one was knocked down in 1997, the same year I streaked at Wembley to save the one we had, is on the way. Our group have been completely vindicated by the Supreme Court, the highest court in England ruling unanimously in our favour. I even had the opportunity of saying things to the councils cabinet, with the CEO and senior officers in attendance, that I have wanted to say for some time, maybe even as long as five years.

What do I hope for the future?

I hope that the council learn lessons and that they never again underestimate the people of our fantastic town and area.

I hope that they are open and transparent and I hope that they consult properly with the public and that more importantly, they listen, because I don't think that the public would allow themselves to be ignored again and I don't think that the council should be foolish enough to ignore that fact.

I hope that the Coatham Bowl is kept. It has one of the finest spring loaded dance floors in the country and I hope that it is regenerated and utilised for dancing and concerts something for which it has always been famous. I also hope, as do thousands of other people, that it is kept because as it was stated in the Nathaniel Lichfield report of 2006, it is one of only three tourist attractions in our town and because as Rachel and I demonstrated in 2005 when we put Walter Trout on at the Bowl, a musician who was voted the sixth best guitarist in the world, we had 1100 people in there and they came from all over the country. Even Sting has fond memories of the Bowl. It should be kept and enhanced as a valuable asset to our town.

I hope that they tidy up the common and make it into a fantastic open area for children and families to use, perhaps even some sort of park?

But most of all, I hope that all parties can work together for what is best for our town and I hope that all things can be done in an open and transparent manner. The public have become so much more aware and so much more prepared to get involved in things that will try and enhance our town since our campaign began, this spirit should be harnessed. There are now two options on the table for Coatham and there is a new initiative that is on the table from Redcarpet Developments, a non profit making organization who want to involve the whole town in trying to regenerate the towns high street itself. It's all really positive and exciting and in order for it to become a reality, we have to all forget our differences.

So to George Dunning, Mark Hannon, Vera Moody, Chris Abbott et all, there's my's time for us to forgive and forget, time to act responsibly but most importantly of all, time to act like adults.

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