The unutterable shambles of the AWP meeting has given cause for complaint. A fully-fledged formal foot-stamping has landed with a thump at TDC Towers and should give a few people there pause for thought – a few snippets are reproduced below for your enlightenment.
Firstly, there is the problem of Mr Buchanan being given the opportunity to offically heckle the Council’s draft report.
If simply by applying to address the working party results in one party with vested interests being able to speak in chambers, then this should be widely known. In this specific instance, I wish to know why officers did not think to invite other interested parties.
Then Cllr Gideon, the AWP Chair, and Cllrs Marson and Wiltshire come in for some stick over apparently partisan harrying of a TDC officer.
NB a couple of important snippets went missing during my cutting and pasting – shown in [square brackets] – my apologies to the three councillors, and particularly Cllr Marson for incorrectly ascribing Cllr Gideon’s actions to her.
[Cllr Gideon, Cllr Wiltshire and] Cllr Marson repeatedly called into question the validity of the exercise. [However, Cllr Gideon’s line of questioning to Hannah Thorpe, the officer in charge of the consultation, should be called into question.] She posed a series of questions, leading questions, that included phrases such as “do you think it was fair”, “was it more difficult for you to interpret”, “was it not as good as” – going on at length to suggest that the process was somehow lacking. Hannah Thorpe was concise and clear in her response and said that the process was as robust and democratic as any, that this type of open consultation was one used by many councils and, indeed, was a type frequently used by TDC.
This should have been the end of that but Cllrs Gideon, Wiltshire and Marson repeatedly came back to this line of questioning. Hannah Thorpe finally advised that this consultation had resulted in the largest response in numbers of any council consultation and that continued undermining and questioning of this process was potentially “dangerous” as it could call into question all the many previous (and presumably future) consultations undertaken by TDC.
I consider the Chair’s behaviour went way beyond that required/expected of a Chair. Clarification and further information was sought and obtained from Hannah Thorpe and that should have been sufficient. My view is that she brought her own opinion of the consultation into the discussion thus acting beyond her role as Chair.
Next up – Cllr Gideon’s selective acceptance of numbers. Infratil’s wishful forecasts are fine, but the World Health Organisation is regarded as questionable.
Cllr Green had asked that an amendment/addition of his be discussed and had supplied a paper. His paper contained detailed statistical evidence from the World Health Organisation, from the House of Commons and from Visit Kent as his points pertained to health, the impact of night flights on the local tourist economy and to serious concerns about quota count systems. The group were asked if they wished this paper to be added to the draft response. This was agreed.
At this point, Cllr Gideon said she was not sure where all these figures had come from, that they might be questionable, that they didn’t need to be included and would Cllr Green be happy if the amended draft included the “spirit” of his comments. I consider this to be an outrageous intervention given that the presentation from Manston was unchallenged, that figures supplied by Manston seem, somehow, to be true and reliable yet figures researched by Cllr Green and all properly referenced to independent and nationally and internationally recognised bodies should be called into question and required to be removed from a subsequent document that will be presented to the scrutiny committee.
During the meeting, and subsequently in the press, Mr Buchanan has tried to merge the results of his own consultation (of unknown and unknowable impartiality) with the results of TDC’s consultation. Any statistician worth their salt would puke with rage at the very suggestion.
Mr Buchanan does not seem to understand that you cannot simply add the two “surveys” together. Who knows whether his claimed 962 people in favour of night flights are the same people as wrote to TDC expressing their night flight support? The potential for double-counting here is enormous. In the interests of balance, the results from No Night Flights (and we understand and accept that there may be double-counting here too) must also be put in front of members.
All in all, it paints a very unflattering picture.
The way in which TDC conducts itself goes to the very heart of our democracy. If we, as residents/electors, can not have faith in the way the council and its officers conduct matters then we can have little or no faith in the democratic process. Most of council business is conducted out of the public gaze and, having attended this meeting, I despair as I contemplate how much must go unremarked upon and how little accountability there seems to be.