Friday, 21 April 2017

Rules for new councillors - my Coalville Times column

This week’s column, it’s fair to say, has something of a niche audience. There’s not too many of you out there who are likely to benefit from my wisdom but nevertheless I think that it is important that I give some advice to a very small subset of the readership of this newspaper.

The rest of you are more than welcome to read along. Who knows, one day you might find yourself in a position where this column is of some help to you.

This week’s column is for those eight souls from North West Leicestershire and a similar number from South Derbyshire who in just a couple of weeks’ time will be elected as County Councillors.

It’s fair to say that a number of those elected on May 4th will be returning members and so for them this column is very much like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs. So if you do happen to be one of those lucky enough to win a second or third term there’s nothing to see here, get yourselves back to County Hall quick sharp.

No I’m writing especially for those of you who have won a council seat for the very first time, there may be only a handful of you but for the sake of your sanity please read on.

Firstly, never ever expect to go into your local pub, church or corner shop and not be accosted by at least two people telling you of the state of potholes in their road. You will be forced to go out and see the aforementioned crater and sympathise with the state of highways generally and ‘what does my council tax pay for’ in particular.

No matter the size of the hole, whether it is nothing more than a stone chip loosening from the Tarmac surface or something akin to a meteorite striking a suburban estate road, you will be expected to treat it with the severest gravity and potentially even have a photograph taken of yourself looking very glum indeed for the benefit of the local paper.

As a rule of thumb seek to avoid the photographs; they only come back to haunt you and you soon discover there are actual websites for councillors pointing at things whilst looking very serious.

The same advice includes local residents complaining about grass verge parking.

Except that those who inconsiderately park their cars, damage our grass verges and make our villages such an eyesore are literally the spawn of the devil. Still, avoid photographs.

If you are lucky enough to be elected in a couple weeks please remember everyone thinks you get free food, drink, parking permits and probably dancing girls.  For the most part you don’t, you only get the things needed to do your job, but it’s pointless putting up an argument. You’re fair game now.

Lastly let me mention planning permission.

Now, I know that County Council’s don’t usually deal with planning permission apart from the big stuff like quarries or airstrips but that will not stop everyone treating you as though your remit goes as far down as second floor extensions and car ports.

Without exception, and it really doesn’t matter if an application is just one step up from mud huts or the best one ever made, neighbours will object and want you to do so too.

It doesn’t matter that we need more homes, especially affordable ones – they get the biggest objections, by the way – neighbours will not want them in their back yards.

Residents in your ward will expect you to argue against any and all planning applications regardless of whether their objections have merit or not. The operative statement here being that whilst some objections do many do not.

You will be tempted, no matter what your view really is, to capitulate and agree with the residents – it might be four years away but in a re-election campaign a few votes can swing things. But don’t.

Stand for what you believe to be right. If it’s a decent application that’s mitigated all major concerns have the guts to support it.

You’ve gone into politics to make a difference. The first step is being true to yourself and not agreeing with every NIMBY with a vote.

Who knows? Following my advice might mean you lose next time round but if you do you can look back and know you did things right. That really is what local politics is truly about.  

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