Council Watch - March 2024

Council Watch - March 2024
1,000 Voices Protest at The Guildhall - Image credit Ariana Bryant

The workings of local democracy are alien to most people, and not easy to get to grips with. It is really important that local residents who want to engage with the process and hold their elected representatives to account get the opportunity to do so.

Council meetings are one such opportunity, when members of the public have the right to present petitions and to make statements relevant to the business of the meeting.  The level of public participation at the meeting on 21 March was unusually high, with one petition and 7 other public speakers, rounded off by a dramatic ‘death’ staged by the 1000 Voices air quality campaign. I really would urge you to watch this part of the meeting on WNC’s YouTube channel.   The public speakers start at around 13 minutes in, the part before that mostly serves to demonstrate why council meetings might be perceived as tied up in too much protocol and therefore not very interesting. A section of the 1000 Voices protest not caught on the official council cameras can be seen on the Umbrella Fair Instagram account.

In addition to participation in the formal meeting, there were three separate protests outside the chamber. These are groups unhappy with the council’s delivery of services to residents or with its decisions: 1000 Voices; West Northants SEND Action Group, and a protest about relocation of Northampton Town Council offices away from the Guildhall. This level of engagement is in some respects positive - we at CA-WN are very much in favour of people getting more involved in democratic processes. However one could argue that people are driven to public protest only after trying other avenues. Are cost pressures and other issues leading to council service levels and tough decisions that wouldn't be the case in better times? If so the public participation section of the agenda at council meetings may be worth keeping an eye on.

The public speakers came to the meeting to raise concerns including the potential sale of allotment land in Brixworth, the adverse impact of multiple warehouse developments around Towcester on surrounding communities, and a demand from 1000 Voices for a robust Air Quality Plan from the council. There was also a speaker from CA-WN on the subject of the draft Local Plan. There will soon be a public consultation on the draft Plan; CA-WN will be responding and will provide some notes to help others do the same.

Other points of potential interest to the climate activist in the street:

-          The Leader of the Council Jonathan Nunn confirmed during the meeting WNC’s plans to develop a draft Climate Strategy. You will be able to hear more about this during our April meeting from Cllr Jonathan Harris, a member of WNC’s Sustainability Working Group.
-          The council Pensions Scheme is investing £100m in forestry and reported that it is currently slightly ahead of its plan to achieve Net Zero by 2050. Good, though it would be better to see a more ambitious target. The world may be a very different place by 2050.