Thursday, 12 June 2014

Shoebury flood defences - a change of policy

So here we go again – a further significant policy change announced via the Echo with no attempt to first pursue the democratic process to overturn a previous decision of cabinet and full council. This time it is Martin Terry’s chance for the photo opportunity confirming that officers have been instructed to cease all work on the previously approved plan for improved flood defences in Shoebury and to start to look at the alternatives. Once again I cannot help but wonder at the reaction if a Conservative cabinet had acted in such a cavalier and undemocratic way and struggle to believe that all backbench members of Labour, the Lib Dems and Indies are comfortable with this failure to follow the correct democratic approach. Of course the reality is that the alternatives were considered at great length during the previous process and it will be more than a little intriguing if the same officers now reach a different conclusion. The basis of this change is that “the public were against it”. I have been in local politics for too long to make such a sweeping claim. There was a well organised campaign to generate opposition by some who had given consideration to the technical evaluation of the alternatives but many who supported them will not have been given the chance to fully understand the complex issues involved. They were supported by some who refuse to accept the need for better flood defences in this area at all. It is always easy to get swept along by public campaigns of this type but councillors are voted in as representatives and not delegates. This reflects the reality that on most issues it is impossible to gauge the true view of “the majority” in a reliable way and it is the responsibility of councillors to hear and take account of residents but to then make decisions on what is in the best interests of the community. If not then we might as well adopt the UKIP policy of referenda on all main policy areas which would soon drown the authority in delay and additional expense. Sometimes it is necessary for elected councillors to take decisions which are unpopular with some but are still right when taking into account all the relevant factors. In the meantime let us hope that the agreed funding from the Environment Agency is not lost and that any new scheme will not result in increased council borrowing which was of course such a central part of Cllr Woodley’s campaign. Finally and most importantly let us all hope that in the months of delay which will now ensue the weather and tide conditions do not create the serious flooding which the now abandoned scheme would have prevented.

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