WARA Raises Serious Concerns Over CGR Process

West Adderbury Residents’ Association (WARA) have written to Cherwell District Council (CDC) to express serious concerns over the way the first stage of the Community Governance Review has been carried out.

In a ten-page letter, WARA have noted how CDC initially rejected the petition for a CGR by incorrectly stating that 250 signatures were legally required.  Even once the petition was accepted, CDC refused to allow WARA to have any input to the terms of reference for the CGR, despite government guidance which suggests this was wrong.

Even more worryingly, according to WARA’s letter, CDC appears to have carried out the CGR from the point of view of the whole parish of Adderbury, rather than specifically considering the issues raised in the petition by West Adderbury residents:

“To be clear, the petition signed by almost 200 West Adderbury residents and submitted by WARA requested:

A Community Governance Review in accordance with the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, Part 4, Chapter 3, Section 80, the Review to relate to the area outlined in purple on the attached maps … which previously formed the separate parish of West Adderbury”. 

Rather than reproducing the actual words used in the petition (above), for reasons which we do not understand, CDC chose to delete the words “West Adderbury” and to replace them with the much broader term “parish matter”:

“Cherwell District Council has received a valid petition from West Adderbury Residents Association, requesting that a Community Governance Review (CGR) be carried out pursuant to Part 4, Chapter 3 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 to consider the following Parish matter”.

CDC were petitioned to review the governance arrangements of West Adderbury. Instead, without explanation or justification, CDC appears to have deliberately chosen to review the governance arrangements of the existing parish of Adderbury.”

WARA’s letter also points out that the law requires that a council undertaking a CGR must have regard to the need to secure that community governance within the area under review (i.e. West Adderbury):

(a) reflects the identities and interests of the community in that area, and

(b) is effective and convenient

It is clear that CDC has taken “the area under review” to be Adderbury parish, and not West Adderbury.

WARA’s letter goes on to say that the CGR Working Group has:

“has decided to ignore the statements agreed to by the almost 200 residents who signed the petition.  These were firm statements of local opinion that APC is incapable of adequately representing the two geographically and socially distinct villages of West and East Adderbury, which have incompatible needs and interests. Instead of considering this key issue, clearly expressed within the petition, the Working Group has decided that the “real problem” is a lack of representation on the current parish council.  The Working Group appears to think that it has a better understanding of the beliefs and needs of West Adderbury residents than the petitioners themselves.”

WARA’s letter also takes issue with the emphasis on the number of respondents who “voted” for and against reinstatement of West Adderbury Parish Council:

“Instead of applying the two principle criteria laid down in law, or the interpretation of those criteria as set out in the guidance, CDC has effectively carried out a poll

The Working Group report leads with the absolute number of votes and the percentage in favour and against separation of the parish.  In his statement at the Council Meeting on 19 October 2020, Working Group Chair Councillor Reynolds also began with the number of “yes” and “no” votes, and stated that “consultation had clearly shown a majority against separation”.   

This emphasis on the number of votes received against the separation of the parish is also to be found in your [CDC’s] response of 21 October 2020, in which you state ”Given the high percentage of responses that did not support the proposal, the Working Group unanimously agreed that separation of the existing parish council should not take place.”

Basing a decision solely upon the result of a vote ignores the principle criteria set down in law, and effectively gives the majority what they want, regardless of why they want it. It is a popularity contest, not a review of whether governance is effective and convenient, and reflects the needs and identities of a community.

In our petition we have complained that as a minority, it is not possible, nor would it be right, for us to outvote the majority and replace our needs and interests with theirs. In other words, as a minority within Adderbury parish, we will always be outvoted, and decisions which exclusively affect West Adderbury will always be made by residents of East Adderbury and Twyford.

It is perverse for CDC to base its decision on whether this is fair on the results of a process which allows the majority in East Adderbury and Twyford once again to outvote West Adderbury.”

In response to the Working Group’s report which states that those against reinstating West Adderbury Parish Council wish for “community cohesion”, WARA’s letter refers to the statements made at the Council meeting on 19 October 2020:

“In his verbal statement, Councillor Reynolds stated that a reason for not recommending the splitting of the parish was that “Separation would not only be divisive but destroy the cohesion that one council brings”. 

However, Councillors Reynolds, McHugh, Corkin and Woodcock then all went on to describe the “toxic” history of Adderbury, the “current fixed and at times fairly ferocious views”, “the worst behaviours of people” and the comments that “were close on being libellous”. Councillor Reynolds explicitly referred to a ten or twelve year period in which “they had been arguing throughout. The report itself expresses disappointment with the tone, language and content of some of the responses that had been submitted.

It is clear that the current single parish council in Adderbury is not bringing “cohesion” to the parish; quite the contrary.  CDC do not appear to have taken into account the current lack of community cohesion in reaching their decision.”

WARA’s letter to CDC concludes by saying:

“In summary, we believe that CDC has deliberately chosen not to carry out the CGR as requested in the petition; it has ignored the specific issues it was asked to examine in the petition; it has substituted an area of review which inevitably favours the interests of Adderbury parish and the larger area of East Adderbury/Twyford at the expense of the interests of West Adderbury; it has compounded this by failing to apply the criteria set down by law and has instead carried out a poll in which inevitably West Adderbury has yet again been disadvantaged by its minority status. 

Despite the fact that the Working Group itself notes that West Adderbury has been and continues to be well-represented on APC, the Working Group mischaracterises the comments of the consultees as relating only to under-representation or misrepresentation.  Instead of trying to understand this apparent paradox by using the second stage consultation to uncover the real reasons for dissatisfaction, CDC has taken a superficial view to shut down any further discussion which might lead to the separation of the parish.

We believe that this is a deeply flawed process and ask that CDC call an immediate halt until the deficiencies in its current approach can be remedied.  We would urge CDC to finally fully engage with the petitioners and to respond in detail to the points set out above as soon as possible.”

We understand that CDC has acknowledged WARA’s letter but that it will take up to 10 days to respond. As the second stage of the consultation is set to start on 2 November 2020, it remains to be seen whether CDC will try to address the petitioners’ concerns or whether it will plough ahead with the second stage of what appears to be a deeply flawed process.

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