I have it on good information that a recent meeting of the Penarth Town Council saw councillors lining up to tear into some information that was being presented.
What nasty, radical threat to Penarth’s livelihood were our brave councillors defending so robustly?
It came under the banner of “Assessing the future of Penarth”, and the documents forming the basis of the presentations can be found here under the heading “Student Projects”. Yes, you heard correctly. The presentations were given by three Masters’ students under the tutelage of Dr Julie Gwilliam, a lecturer in Architectural Science at the Welsh School of Architecture. They had given of their time, firstly to spend months researching ways to improve Penarth for the future of its citizens and livelihoods, and then to visit the Town Council to present their findings.
I wasn’t at the meeting, so I can’t judge for myself the level of vitriol inflicted on these conscientious and enthusiastic students. But credible witness statements leave me in no doubt that the councillors were an embarrassment to Penarth. The minutes of the meeting, for example, note: “Councillor Sophie Williams questioned the car parking and the consultation processes undertaken”. I understand that Cllr Williams claimed that 20 parking spaces was much more than 20 when taking into account the turnover of parking during the day. Actually, Cllr Williams, 20 parking spaces equals 20 parking spaces.
The full glorious roll-call of councillors fighting tooth and nail for ‘no change in Penarth, thank you very much’, was JF Fraser, JR Baker, PC Church, KM Land, and SJC Williams (all Conservative) and MEJ Birch (Labour).
Perhaps these jumped-up councillors have spent too long watching Westminster Committees chewing up News of the World media barons and fancied a pop at some witnesses of their own. Just for you, councillors, here’s my take on the situation.
These students did Penarth a wonderful service. They bestowed on us a wonderful gift that you shoved back in their faces. One of the students travelled from Spain just to be in Penarth Town Council on 3 November. The behaviour of our elected representatives was so reprehensible that at least two people I know of are considering standing against you in May’s elections as a result – so at least there’s one silver lining to this miserable story.
I hope the students’ legacy can be fulfilled because their plans and research are breathtaking in their scope, imagination and aspirations for our town. And perhaps unlike some of the councillors, I’ve actually read them.
The title of this post would suggest that the Town Council was shamed. But any institution is comprised of the sum of the individuals within it. The shame is squarely on these six councillors. With elections in May, I’ll certainly be bearing this embarrassing episode in mind.
There’s a further aspect to this story that I can’t shake loose. It’s the fact that members of the public who attended weren’t allowed to have any say or make any comment. Some of them were shaking with indignation on behalf of the students but had no opportunity to make the case that some people in Penarth might actually be interested in moving our town to a more sustainable future. For anyone – like myself – interested in democracy in Wales, this charade of accountability needs to be torn up. Councillors, over to you.
PS For those interested in what our hard-working Councillors get up to, you’ll be interested to note that the Planning and Transportation Committee that also met on 3 November was cancelled because not enough members turned up (actually, just four: JR Baker, MEJ Birch, JF Fraser and KM Land).