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Police called in as hecklers tell Gilbey to resign

Leader ignores calls for him to quit

DEBATE: Campaigners packed the Guildhall
DEBATE: Campaigners packed the Guildhall

POLICE were called to the Guildhall after protesters erupted with fury when councillors dismissed a 3,500-signature petition calling for them to resign. Campaigners shouted “Gilbey out” and stood as Whitstable resident Julie Wassmer launched a scathing attack on council leader John Gilbey. The fervent activist shouted until she was hoarse, despite attempts by officials to usher her from the council chambers. Lord Mayor Heather Taylor adjourned the meeting and retired to a private area while other councillors stood listening open-mouthed. The outburst at the meeting last Thursday which ended before officers arrived followed a stormy debate ignited by the presentation of the petition by Debbie Barwick, of vintage shop Revivals in Canterbury. It was prompted by opposition to the Westgate Towers traffic trial. Mrs Barwick criticised the executive system for allowing Councillor Gilbey to appoint “yes men and women”. She told the chamber:

“We fight for democracy while you stifle it. We are often dismissed as a ‘loud minority’ but what Is indisputable here Is that 568 people voted you in as councillor, John Gilbey, and almost seven times that amount now want you out. That’s democracy!”

In response, Cllr Gilbey proposed a motion that the council should accept the “deep differences” highlighted by the traffic trial, but that members of the executive were “genuinely and properly concerned” about the city’s pollution and congestion issues and acted with the best of intentions. Opposition councillors said they were stunned at the public anger and warned that action was needed to regain voters’ trust.

Uprising

Lib Dem leader Alex Perkins said:

“I have been a councillor since I was 23 and I have never seen such an uprising.”

He proposed that not only should the executive resign, but that the whole system should be scrapped in favour of a return to committees where opposition and backbench councillors have more power. Ukip councillor David Hirst, ousted by the Conservative group over his outspoken opposition to the traffic trial, said:

“If we don’t draw a line and find a new way forward we are wasting our time. Without trust from the public we are just a group of people waffling in the corner.”

Whitstable’s Ashley Clark was the only Tory to speak during the debate – allocated 30 minutes of the meeting by the mayor instead of the 15 set down in the council’s petitions scheme. He said he had criticised previous executive decisions, including the opposition to registering Kingsmead Field as a village green, but highlighted some “successes”, such as the new Marlowe Theatre and the recycling scheme. The proposal that the executive should resign was lost by 31 votes to 15, and a vote on returning to the committee system was also lost. Cllr Gilbey was heckled as he insisted the city’s traffic issues still needed to be tackled. He said:

“This council has been successful at most things that it did, including the trial. Never think anyone can step into this position, or any of these positions, with ease and not face a huge problem. Everything we do is on behalf of the residents.”

A vote to accept his motion that the executive acted with the best intentions was won by 31 to 11, with four abstentions.

Campaigners want a referendum

A COALITION of campaign groups is planning a public meeting to discuss calling for a referendum on the way Canterbury City Council is run. Representatives from residents’ associations, parish councils and amenity groups such as the Whitstable Society and the Canterbury Society have joined forces to start a debate on whether the executive system should be scrapped. It follows the debate at a city council meeting on Thursday after thousands signed a petition calling for the executive to resign. Sian Pettman, from new group the Campaign for Democracy in Canterbury District, said:

“We want to launch a debate so the public have a chance to get involved in understanding what the merits and demerits of the different systems are. In a way, Thursday’s vote was premature because the debate has not yet taken place. But a number of councillors are fully aware of the problems with the current executive system, because it gives them very little opportunity to represent the needs and concerns of their residents.”

Under new powers granted by the Localism Act, if five per cent of the electorate sign a petition. a referendum can be held. In the Canterbury district, this amounts to 5,600 people. A referendum would take place in May 2015, alongside voting for the general and local elections. Only one other place, Fylde in Lancashire, has used the powers, and a referendum will take place in May this year. Other councils, including Kent County Council, have adopted a hybrid system, with a cabinet and committees. The public meeting will take place at 7.30pm on Wednesday, February 5 at the United Reformed Church in Watling Street, Canterbury.

  • For more information, call 01227 760467 or email richardnorman@gn.apc.org

Herne Bay Times, January 16th 2014

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