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Author Topic: FEATHERSTONE MASTER PLAN  (Read 5979 times)
Full Member
Posts: 1729


« Reply #40 on: July 02, 2009, 09:56:08 pm »

Dear Mr

1.   First of all, I apologise if there has been some misunderstanding between us about your village green application.  As you will see the e-mail I sent back to you, I cannot investigate a complaint unless it has been registered through our Access Centre in Coventry and then the Council must be given an opportunity to respond to it first.  Although I know about the village green application (from Mr Clayton, I believe) it is not something the Ombudsman has been asked to investigate. 
Your complaint

2.   The complaint I have been investigating is that Wakefield Council, having invited you to become a member of a steering group for Featherstone’s regeneration Master Plan,
   mismanaged the steering group; and
   disregarded its views; and
   that the Deputy Leader of the Council gave a promise to a public meeting, later confirmed in writing on the Council’s official writing paper, which a senior officer subsequently said she had no power to make.

The Council’s response

3.   The Council says the steering group was managed quite informally.  It acknowledges that, in some cases, not everyone who should have been invited to the meeting received adequate notice, proper minutes were not always taken and there was no proper procedure for ensuring that minutes were properly checked.   
4.   There is a difference between informality and casualness.  The purpose of these meetings was ultimately to access substantial public funding.  Of course meetings should have taken place in a relaxed, inter-active environment but those responsible for running the meetings had a duty to ensure they were conducted in a business-like way. 
5.   I have discussed my concerns with the Council’s Mr Wallhead who has agreed to improve procedures.  The Council may want to make small changes but I suggest that the following basic principles should be observed. 
a)   In the case of public open meetings, at least 14 days notice should be given, officers facilitating the meeting should introduce themselves at the outset (not just name, but office, if appropriate, and role) and a book should be circulated for every attendee to write his / her name.   Public open meetings should have an experienced chairman and an experienced note-taker should keep a record of the proceedings.  The original hand-written notes should be retained for 12 months in case there is a dispute. 
b)   Steering groups and committees should have clear terms of reference and a register of members. 
c)   All meetings (other than public open meetings) should have at least 14 days notice, including a copy of the minutes of the preceding meeting and the agenda.  The first agenda item at any meeting should be consideration of the minutes of the previous meeting followed by matters arising (other than those to be covered elsewhere in the agenda.  This ensures that matters raised do not drift into oblivion.)  Every meeting should be minuted by an experienced note-taker, the typed draft of whose notes should be checked by the Chairman within 48 hours, before being finalised for circulation.    Original notes of the meeting should be retained until the minutes have been approved at the following meeting.
6.   Did the Council disregard the view of the steering group?  The evidence does not enable me to say it did not.  However, the Council has remedied the situation.  In its report to Cabinet on 24 March this year, in its letter to me and in Mr Wallhead’s letter to you, the Council has stated unequivocally that reference to the Civic Plaza has been deleted from the Masterplan. 
7.   Did Members exceed their powers?  I believe there has been a misunderstanding here.   On 4 October 2007 Councillor Denise Jeffery, Deputy Leader of the Council, wrote to her colleague, Councillor Kay Binnersley saying that “following the meeting at Featherstone to discuss the Masterplan, (she had taken) the paper to Cabinet… (asking for all reference to) the Civic Plaza (Chesneys) to be taken out and (for there to be) no redevelopment at Post Office Road, (involving homes and businesses) at the present time.”  She said Cabinet agreed to this.   
8.   Subsequently Councillor Box, Leader of the Council, suggested that Councillor Jeffery had no authority to do this. 
9.   The paper submitted to the Cabinet had been prepared by the consultants, DTZ.  It was their property and Councillor Box had a fair point when he said Councillor Jeffery had no authority to meddle with it.  As a Councillor, however, she had every right (arguably a duty) to tell Cabinet that the steering group strongly opposed DTZ’s proposals for the Civic Plaza and to ask Cabinet not to approve redevelopment of Post Office Road. 
10.   Once again, however, the documents presented to Cabinet and the documents posted on the Council’s website lacked clarity and, if records are unclear, disputes arise and people lose confidence in the Council.   All this, however, has now been remedied by the Council’s recent actions and the assurances it has given. 
Provisional View
11.   The Council has remedied your concern about the Civic Plaza and it has agreed that, in future, meetings will be conducted in a more business-like way.  This should ensure you go forward on a better footing and with more confidence that views, at local level, will be taken into account although, inevitably, not everyone will be happy with the outcome, whatever it is! 
12.   We seem to have achieved a satisfactory local settlement of your complaint and I would recommend its acceptance.  However, before reaching any final decision, I would welcome your comments.  If there is anything else you would like me to take into consideration, please would you let me know within the next two weeks?   Otherwise, as soon as you confirm this settlement is acceptable to you, I shall close the complaint and notify the Council accordingly.   
Yours sincerely
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