The Ryedale 17 must be challenged : 8th September 2010

What astonished a crowded public gallery on 29th July was not that some Councillors had a lot to say, but the virtual silence of all but a very few of the seventeen members who voted to sell Wentworth Street Car Park. It was perfectly clear to every body at the meeting that the decision had been taken beforehand and that one group, in particular, had been instructed to vote the way they did.


I have always believed that there is a need for politics in local government, if for no other reason, to give the voters a competitive choice. Even so, however much a whipping system may be appropriate for a national parliament, I cannot see the justification for this or anything like it at district council level. It makes a farce of democracy, and means that, however strong the argument, logic cannot prevail against a determined council leader.


Since 1996, Ryedale has become less and less democratic. The decision making process starts at the top and works downwards – from secret meetings between senior officers and the Council leader and other group leaders, to working parties which are not open to the press or public, and then to committees, which often have agenda of between 200 – 500 pages, where there is little or no time but to endorse recommendations made by working parties or by officers who have previously consulted the Council Leader or Committee chairman.


In this kind of set up, public consultation is no longer a genuine attempt to give the public a choice between two or more options, but has become a selling exercise where views already formed at Council are promoted with little comment on the pros and cons of alternative views. This approach was aptly put by one political group at the last election as: “We will dispense with meaningless consultations on what has already been decided”. Since then, all three of the larger political groups at Ryedale House seem to have adopted this approach.


The consequence is the decision to sell land for a supermarket, which is outside the commercial limits of Malton, and is accessible in three out of four directions by narrow roads which are not the right standard to take the inevitable traffic. This is all being done in advance of the outcome of the Council’s proposed local plan, on the basis that as the Council has already decided what should be in the plan, the views of the public don’t matter, and any public consultation and public enquiry in regard to it are no more than mere formalities.


How do we put an end to all of this? Most Ryedale residents are heartily sick of this kind of politics, and the answer is that the 17 need to be voted out of office. We need good independent members to stand against all of them. Most people are reluctant to accept this kind of challenge, either because they do not have the time or because they don’t want to get involved with personalities, politics, committees or Council paperwork. The trouble is that if nobody is prepared to mount a determined challenge against the 17, Ryedale will continue to run in the same autocratic way as now. Ryedale needs people who will set aside their personal distaste for local politics and consider it their public duty to stand up for what they believe.



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