MARTIN CURTIS: Why I became increasingly suspicious and then was proved right that a ‘legally questionable and a moral travesty’ was being hatched
WHEN I was first told I was being forced out as vice-chairman of planning because of “community perceptions” I said I was baffled.
That reason was then changed to a suggestion that I was “too emotionally involved with one particular planning application”, but Cllr Alan Melton then clarified that I had always listened to officers’ advice and had done nothing wrong legally; I now find myself concerned.
Whilst I put forward some strong evidence at that first planning meeting on August 29 I didn’t do what others have done in the past, which is to just say “Whittlesey residents overwhelmingly support Sainsbury therefore you must support it.” I have too much respect and knowledge of the planning process to do that – so instead I put forward clear reasons why I thought the Sainsbury application was the best in planning terms, a view I still hold. I make no apologies for doing that it is, after all, what I’m elected to do.
After August 29 I became increasingly suspicious that all was not as it should be and became concerned that the Tesco refusal was going to be revisited at the next planning meeting.
My view was that that would be legally questionable and a moral travesty given that the decisions of August 29 were made in front of over 250 people. So I made some extremely robust challenge throughout the period between August 29 and the date that the Tesco decision was changed and was consistently reassured that there was no move to revisit the principle of refusal.
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Given that a legal and moral travesty did indeed take place it is clear I was right to challenge. And of course, after the about face, I stood up and made my views clear. Again, I am elected as a community leader – and this was a time when I had to stand up for the Whittlesey community.
I was told that one of the reasons for the suggestion that I got too emotionally close to one application was because I chose to meet with the Sainsbury team immediately after the meeting of August 29; I was very transparent about the fact that I did that, it was to make contact and to try to influence a few areas, such as the route of the proposed hopper bus and to offer to join the Friends of the Country Park group.
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I have indeed made some suggestions about the hopper bus, asking for Sainsbury to consider altering the proposed routes to occasionally make stops at areas where we know high numbers of older people live and to pass on a request from one of my fellow councillors for a route to Eastrea and Coates to be considered. That influence and the decision to join the friends of the country park are both about me doing my job as a Councillor – trying to make things work for Whittlesey.
One of my challenges to Fenland since the debacle of September 19 has been that they have two jobs to do:
To sort out the legal muddle that has been created
To make sure that justice is done to the people of Whittlesey
To date I have seen much evidence that Fenland (quite rightly) are clear about the need to deal with the first task; in fact I have been active in this area too, having passed on my own views about how to improve planning at Fenland.
But I am extremely concerned that I have seen and heard nothing that suggests the Whittlesey factor is even on the radar. When canvassing yesterday I had a number of people say to me that the real reason for my sacking is because some at Fenland did not like the robust way I have represented my Town; unfortunately, I am starting to agree with them.
I have had many people express sympathy for me.
Please don’t feel sorry for me, it is true that I don’t think my sacking is just, but I also know that politics is a tough game and I almost certainly would have resigned from the planning committee anyway – I just wasn’t going to do it as a way of hiding the fact that I was being forced out.
If you want to have sympathy, feel sorry for what the decision to get rid of me seems to say to other Fenland councillors who feel the need to stand up and be counted for their own community and go out of their way to do it in a transparent and honest way; or feel sorry for my colleague Gary Swan who is working his heart out trying to get elected to Fenland District Council at a time when Whittlesey has been let down so badly.
Finally, I have spent a great deal of time trawling the internet and listening to others to see if there is any merit to the “community perceptions” argument. There is inevitably some criticism of me, but in the majority there is support.
However, I don’t hide from criticism; I like to be challenged, so I will keep thinking about those comments to see what there is to learn.