There were puzzled – not to say worried – faces at Penarth Town Council’s policy and finance committee this week when the Plaid Cymru candidate for St Augustine’s Ward – the formidable Anne Greagsby – arrived with partner Professor Max Wallis to sit-in on the proceedings.
Neither wore the masks they donned recently to investigate air pollution in Cogan, but nevertheless the encounter turned out to be not one of Penarth Town Council’s finest hours.
Like all members of the public, Ms Greagsby and Professor Wallis were fully entitled to sit-in on, and to observe, open council and committee meetings [meetings of the council’s secret committees including the Strategic Review Group are closed to the public and press].
As a former, and not entirely uncontroversial, member of the Green Party, Ms Greagsby was specifically interested in an agenda item on “Environmental Policy” – the first time the Penarth Council has codified a written policy to “build on existing good practice”.
The new policy is designed to ensure that the Town Council complies with current environmental legislation. It all seemed innocuous enough, but Ms Greagsby said that she had asked to see a copy of the policy report in advance – and had not received it – and had also asked for permission to speak at the meeting.
The chairman, Cllr Mike Cuddy (Labour St Augustine’s), said “No one has advised me of that?” . A council officer said he had not seen Ms Greagsby’s request.
Ms Greagsby retorted that she, in turn, had not received a copy of the document she had requested. [PDN Note: Unlike other councils, Penarth Town Council does not place its officer-reports on its website ]
Cllr Cuddy said “Well this is miscommunication all round” . He invited Ms Greagsby to speak “at my discretion if you would like to say something”.
Ms Greagsby needed no persuasion to accept the invitation.
She said “I’ve only seen this document tonight and I think after 5 years [ the length of time the current Labour-controlled council has been in office] it’s disappointing that it’s taken so long to get an environmental policy. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and so is this document – because there’s no goals, no targets, there’s no way of saying how we are going to measure our performance.”
Ms Greagsby asked just how the council was going to meet its ambition to ‘conserve and enhance Penarth’s built and natural environment, keeping it safe and accessible‘. She asked ” How can you keep it safe and accessible when the Vale Highways Department make all the decisions about pavements – and you don’t get any say in the matter at all? When are you going to try and sort all that out?”
At this point, some councillors were beginning to shift uncomfortably in their seats and emit sighs of impatience. Undaunted, Ms Greagsby ploughed on – telling them “You say you’re going to promote local diversity – yet you cut the budget for trees”.
By this time Cllr Gwyn Roberts (Labour St Augustines) had clearly had enough. He intervened – interrupting Ms Greagsby in full flow.
“Chair, please!” – Cllr Roberts called to committee chairman Cllr Mike Cuddy – “you’ve just given a member of the public informal permission to speak .What we have is a political speech. Matters such as trees and pavements were not the responsibility of the council – he said . “The whole demeanour of it is wrong . Clearly the speaker knows nothing about what this council has done over the last 5 years “
Cllr Roberts also appeared to harbour some other suspicions about the contribution from Ms Greagsby. ” I think frankly that what’s happened here is that someone has taken an opportunity to make a political speech for a campaign. It is spurious and inappropriate and I ask that it finish here”.
Cllr Cuddy invited Ms Greagsby to make a closing comment.
She expounded on the “time plan ” for the policy – but within moments another Labour councillor – this time Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour Cornerswell) – was shouting her down . He said “Chair, this is out of order! ”
[ PDN Note: Cllr Neil Thomas is standing for election for a salaried seat on the Vale of Glamorgan Council in the St Augustines Ward in May’s local elections . His opponent in that ward is none other than Ms Anne Greagsby who is contesting the Vale seat for Plaid Cymru. The fact that the two are political opponents – both vying to win the same seat in the same ward – is of course entirely co-incidental.]
Courteously, Cllr Cuddy – in the chair – thanked Ms Greagsby, saying “I must say I am sympathetic to the environment and I think most councillors here are very sympathetic to the concerns you have elaborated” . He told her that most of the points she had raised were matters which were not under the council’s control and asserted Ms Greagsby already knew that.
The council, Cllr Cuddy said, had a limited budget and had to move on “many dimensions” to make the council “a respected body ” that worked with its partners. The council, he said, had done its best to improve access to its building [an electrical system automatically opens the entrance doors to West House when it senses someone is entering or – perhaps after May’s elections – departing]. Cllr Cuddy said he was proud of what the council had done in the last 5 years and it was “disappointing” to hear members of the public being “entirely negative” .
This is not the first time members of the public have been shouted-down by Labour councillors when legitimately attempting to speak at a Penarth Town Council meeting during the current Labour administration .
On March 14th 2013, an ill-tempered exchange arose when a group of 7 local Plymouth Ward residents attended a Penarth Town Council planning committee meeting at which they had been given permission to speak . One of them was stopped – by a Labour councillor – from questioning the Town Clerk . [See PDN http://tinyurl.com/mdrr7tz%5D