Parish Council update February 2014

The Withiel Parish Council meeting of February 11th was largely taken up with examining allegations made by the former Chairman, Richard Thomas, against Councillor Shearer over the repair of a kissing gate on the Saints Way, made at the previous council meeting on January 15th. These were that the Code of Conduct, Financial Regulations and Standing Orders of the Council had all been breached. Councillor Thomas then resigned saying he could not sit with people who did not obey the rules.

As a result, much time was expended combing these documents to try to find out what Mr Thomas was referring to. No breach of code, regulation or order could be found. The Honorary Clerk, Simon Coy, concluded an investigation by saying: “In summary, Councillor Shearer, acting as an agent for Cornwall Council, seems to me to have behaved perfectly correctly throughout, and there is no foundation for the allegations made during the meeting on 15 January 2014.” The council agreed to document the fact that Councillor Shearer had breached no regulation.

The trawl of documentation, however, turned up a few issues which could usefully be dealt with. The Standing Orders were out of date, and had been superseded by a new model document which is now under discussion. Similarly, the Financial Regulations needed to be brought up to date; this is also in train. And in discussion with the Cornwall Association of Local Councils and others, it was said that our method of keeping the Minutes was “out of kilter” with normal practice.

For the last year we have treated the Minutes as a comprehensive report of council proceedings, which we have set out at length. It was said, however, that Minutes should be brief and should record the decisions of the council, not the debates that led up to them. The council has decided to conform to this template.

However, there is nothing to stop us reporting the proceedings separately at some length, which we intend to continue to do – hence this article. The Minutes will be kept separately.

In order to avoid a subjective treatment of the proceedings of the January 15th meeting at which Mr Thomas resigned, it’s been decided that the audio file of the meeting should be placed on the website for anyone to listen to if they wish, and this will be done as soon as we can arrange a mechanism for it.

The Minutes of the meeting on February 11 have been posted on this website and were confirmed at the meeting on February 17th. The draft minutes from the February 17th meeting will be posted shortly.

That meeting was needed because of the late promulgation of a planning application for an extension to the agricultural buildings by the side of the road between Withiel and the A30 at Great Brynn Barton. Questions were asked as to whether conditions attached to the original permissions for the buildings, which required screening, had been complied with. It was resolved that the council would not support the proposal “because we believe that the arrangements for shielding the building implied in the planning conditions when it was first built have not been complied with and therefore we do not believe the building should be made even larger until this matter is addressed.” The vote on this resolution was five for and one again, with Councillor Harper voting against.

When the public were asked to speak, Max Simpson asked why Councillor Harper had referred to him as “not being an approved contractor”. During the ensuing debate it was clear there were several misconceptions about the term, which the Honorary Clerk Councillor Coy said had no intrinsic meaning. Councillor Harper assured Mr Simpson that he was not getting at him.

Other items discussed included additional funding of £250 to News & Views, where costs have risen substantially. News & Views was characterised as an important asset to the Parish and one which needed support. The council put off a decision on repairs to the benches by the bus shelter pending further appraisal.

The meeting actually went on for almost three hours, and most of the time was taken up by going through the new model Standing Orders and Financial Regulations line by line. A number of minor amendments were suggested, and the final versions will be put before the next meeting – which will be on Wednesday March 12th at 7:15pm