NOTES FROM THE SHED – A GUIDE TO VILLAGE POLITICS

Joe Sweetinburgh and Horrabridge Parish Council have been scrapping for years but for the past couple, their row has gone public, through Horrabridge Noticeboard, plus council reports in the Bridge magazine and the Horrabridge Times.

Having played a part here in The Shed, hq of this website, maybe it is time to use this occasional leader page for a few comments to explain the situation to new readers.

It is possible to like and respect both sides, up to a point. It is impossible not to sometimes be exasperated by both. The mutual hostility they have generated often trumps reasonability.

From the council’s point of view, Mr Sweetinburgh keeps changing the questions he want to ask and there is never an end to them. From Joe Sweetinburgh’s point of view, that is because he never gets a full answer. The rest of us sometimes suspect him of causing trouble as a game. But we also sometimes see him shouted at and deliberately misunderstood even when he is fairly clearly right.

He accuses the council of rushing the sale of the building site round the corner from his home in Walkham Meadows, at the expense of tenants’ rights (in which he has a personal interest) and at the risk of a legal challenge. It is probably fair to say the project was pushed through the public consultation process rather than led through. But the council says it was guided by solicitors and everybody except Joe is happy. The parish has made a good down-payment on the requirement for the village to make some room for social housing. Joe Sweetinburgh’s criticisms have been publicly recorded and the points he is still making are for lawyers to argue about if it ever becomes necessary.

However, Mr S is right to point out that we mainly hear from the same members of the council on all this, backing each other up. He wonders why they do not simply produce a letter from their lawyers. He wants to read the correspondence they have had on Walkham Meadows, up to sale and since. And he believes the council is stonewalling him because that is what it has always done, not because it has clear legal advice to do so. He insists on his right to inspect the council’s spending record for any payments to lawyers, so he can pursue his questions with them. He may well be right that he has a right and the councillors have had to concede a little. But every time they get close to an agreement on disclosure of information, they change their mind between meetings or Joe fires off 20 guns by email in the middle of the night and puts their backs up again.

Now it seems (see Horrabridge Noticeboard) that he might have caught the council out for being late with publication of account audit details. It looks like a technically serious omission, which the council must deal with, but not many people will be very interested, as long as it is put right.

Mr Sweetinburgh sees it as part of a pattern and says the council’s last three leaders and their clerk should resign.

Most of us, probably, would not want that.

But if anybody else does, they should be standing for election this April, which hardly anyone has done, for this or any other parish council, for years and years and years.

That’ll do on the subject for now. For once, we are not inviting comments. But letters to the editor will be politely considered – send to newsdesk@horrabridgetimes.net/

Chris Benfield

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Editor of The Horrabridge Times.