West Adderbury Residents’ Association Submission on Community Governance Review

West Adderbury Residents’ Association (WARA) have submitted the following response to the Community Governance Review.  If you have not yet responded you can do so until 28 August 2020 by visiting Cherwell’s CGR website.

West Adderbury Residents Association Submission on Community Governance Review

The law requires parish council governance to be ‘reflective of the identity and interests’ of the community in the area and to be ‘effective and convenient.’

Adderbury Parish Council is none of these things. It fails on all counts. The Community Governance Review now underway is not about splitting a village – the Council has already done that – it is about creating a separate civil administration to deliver the services the residents of West Adderbury need. We are currently at the mercy of an administration fixated on pursuing its agenda to the detriment of issues we consider far more pressing and important. When a majority systematically uses its power to deny a minority its rights, this becomes tyranny and is not democracy.

The failure to reflect identity and interests

The true measure of democracy is its inclusivity- how well it accommodates the legitimate aspirations of diverse and competing minorities. It is not just a numbers game where it is all right to impose the will of the majority whatever. Might is not right – to routinely exclude, neglect or ignore minority interests is intolerable and a form of discrimination. But that is precisely the fate suffered by residents in West Adderbury under Adderbury Parish Council (APC).

Benjamin Franklin once described democracy as two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. West Adderbury is tired of feeling like a lamb to the wolves of East Adderbury and Twyford.

West Adderbury is historically and geographically a separate village from East Adderbury and Twyford. The sleepy and peaceful character of West Adderbury is in stark contrast to the bustling, suburban nature of the rest of the Parish. Many residents chose to live in West Adderbury because they value its distinctive and unique character. Many residents identify first and foremost with West Adderbury and want to keep our special identity.

It is an essentially residential area with a rural character but only makes up 23% of the total parish population. It is this fundamental arithmetical fact which has effectively disenfranchised us and continues to do so. And yet West Adderbury has existed as an independent community for a thousand years and successfully ran its own parish council right up to 1972.

Because it forms a minority within APC, the interests and aspirations of its population have never been, and will never be, accommodated by a council dominated by a clique under the same chairperson for 20 years. APC’s vision does not include West Adderbury beyond using it as somewhere to site new development or facilities it finds too noisy or otherwise unacceptable in their current location.

The failure to be effective and convenient

APC’s long history of dysfunctional conduct makes a powerful case for change. In 2017 Cherwell District Council felt the need to appoint an independent management consultant to review APC practices. They found:

“a high level of animosity between a number of councillors. Mutual distrust between a group of members and the chair and her supporters. The way that these disagreements are articulated on both sides goes way beyond legitimate disagreements about policy or procedures and has descended at times into disruptive behaviour, allegations being made which question the integrity of individuals and an unwillingness to engage in debate or allow legitimate concerns to be raised.” (Hoey Ainscough Report 3.8)

APC did not listen and has not learned to mend its ways. The poisonous atmosphere of council meetings persists as does the chair’s totalitarian approach to running things, rudely and abruptly closing down debate on issues which do not further APC interests.

The issues of real concern to most people in West Adderbury are –

The dangerous growth of speeding traffic

The costly plans for a new sports and community project unrelated to local need

The threat of overdevelopment

The provision of adequate drainage to protect homes from flood risks.

The lack of a decent, dignified burial provision

We want full implementation of traffic calming measures within the major roads

in West Adderbury, including a 20mph zone. The installation of proper drainage to ensure against the flooding of West Adderbury homes and that our cemetery will not flood or be liable to pollute our water courses.

The initial response from APC to such issues is first to deny that there is a problem. If it will not go away then they kick it into the long grass. It is farmed out to a specially appointed ad hoc subcommittee to be endlessly debated and reported on, only to be forgotten or ignored if the findings do not suit the APC agenda. This modus operandi is calculated to create the illusion of ongoing public consultation and community involvement but involves no commitment of any kind. Inconvenient recommendations can be dismissed on the ground that they are merely ‘advisory’.

The Council’s claims to have overwhelming public support for its policies are wholly misleading. It maintains its core support by a deliberate policy of divide and rule. Inevitably this has set communities against each other, destroyed trust and undermined community cohesion.

Time and again APC has proved itself to be secretive, mendacious and manipulative.

In 2017 it was forced to make a public apology for attempting to improperly influence a parish poll on the Neighbourhood Plan by campaigning for a Yes vote. Parish councils are not permitted to campaign in the 28 days before a referendum. APC broke the law but pleaded ignorance of the rule. This is curious given that the parish clerk was a Democratic and Scrutiny officer for Cherwell District Council and the Chair has been in position for 20 years.

APC misrepresented the result of another parish poll on whether to call in Oxford County Council to consult on traffic measures. It claimed the poll showed overwhelming public support for its policy against calling in the county council. In fact, the turnout was just 19.4% and the votes was 2 to 1 against – putting support for APC around 13% of the parish population – a less than ringing endorsement.

Even that was only achieved after APC contrived to insert a last-minute wrecking question on whether section 106 monies from its sports and community project should be diverted for traffic improvements. This ploy effectively turned the poll into a referendum on APC’s pet project rather than the traffic problem it will exacerbate.

In 2017 a 200-signature petition from West Adderbury to the Parish Council on traffic dangers was unaccountably lost. A traffic planning subcommittee was set up but then dissolved because its raft of recommendations looked too expensive. It was subsumed into an Environment committee which continues to produce voluminous reports with very little to show on the ground. For the last two years APC has insisted it has £40,000 earmarked for traffic calming measures but nothing substantive has been done. Traffic calming is more than white painted gates and a few signs, it requires physical measures to force drivers to slow down within a 20mph speed zone.

APC will not spend on our priorities because it has its own – a hugely expensive sports and community project. For political reasons it persists in misrepresenting our views on the project. WARA has repeatedly stated that we do not oppose the provision of new community sports facilities on the Milton Road site. Our objection is based on the sheer scale of the scheme. What began as a modest community hall with 40 parking spaces has by stealth morphed into a major venue with bars, cafe, restaurant, meeting rooms, and parking for 140 cars. The scale of the £2M plus project bears no relation to local needs and certainly exceeds local resources. 90% of residents in West Adderbury say they are unlikely to use this facility. APC promised the public a detailed, fully costed business plan 2 years ago. It has yet to materialise. We fear being left with an expensive white elephant.

APC set up Working for Adderbury Community -WFAC – to find out what facilities the public wanted and generally involve the community in funding and planning for Milton Road but two key figures, including the Chairman of WFAC, suddenly resigned because APC rejected their recommendations and unilaterally redrew their pitch plan. The WFAC Chairman’s letter of resignation is instructive. It highlighted ‘breaches of the basic level of civil operation within the group which we had always agreed were: offering respect to others, work for the positive outcome of the mission statement, operate with integrity and be independent of political lobbying.’

It should be noted that WFAC membership is conditional on signing a mission statement committing the applicant to supporting APC’s aims. How to contain opposition and maintain tight control are clearly a high priority. The Chair has in the past exercised her casting vote to ensure her own re-election.

The transparency of the relationship between WFAC and APC is not clear. Is WFAC a de facto subcommittee of APC.

There is also clear evidence that she sought to improperly influence a controversial planning application in West Adderbury in which the developer was offering the parish council a cash incentive of £100,000 to maintain the Friends Meeting House and crucially land linking Adderbury to the Milton Road project which could also be used to extend the adjacent burial ground. She breached the Code of Conduct by lobbying widely on his behalf and even offered to consider extending the residential settlement boundary to accommodate the application. Planning approval has since been granted – the money was not a condition.

This is how APC has destroyed community cohesion and lost the trust of residents in West Adderbury. APC bends the rules and is increasingly a law unto itself. Despite being warned in advance, it is currently in breach of 3 conditions imposed on the Milton Road development with regard to wildlife and drainage, breaches which expose West Adderbury’s cemetery and homes to increased risk of flooding.

It is undeniable and documented fact that APC has both in the past and recently attempted to manipulate Planning Officers, Consultees in the planning process, Councillors and politicians to get what they want whatever the cost to their own integrity or that of others. The losers in all this have too often been the residents of West Adderbury. APC has form and we see no prospect of change without separation. The present governance is intolerable.

We consider APC to be in clear breach of at least 4 of the 7 Nolan Principles of Public Life.

Objectivity – holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias

Openness – holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing

Honesty – holders of public office should be truthful

Leadership – holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour.

They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

It is APC’s calculated policy of divide and rule that has split the community. It has set Twyford and East Adderbury against West Adderbury. Appeals to build bridges rather than burn them have been have ignored.

APC’s leadership has developed a boundless sense of entitlement and intolerance. It has discriminated against and denigrated West Adderbury, resorting to social media to brand us ‘selfish snobs’, ‘elitist and divisive’ Derogatory and insulting comments have been posted by former councillors – one the worst offenders being the spouse of APC’s chairperson. This has fuelled divisions within Adderbury and contributed to the breakdown in community relations.

APC’s claim that we do not have a high street or a centre and are, therefore, not a community is nonsense. Adderbury is a series of ribbon developments two miles in length that does not lend itself to having a centre. West Adderbury existed before the creation of Adderbury and as part of the ecclesiastical parish including Milton, Barford St Michael and Barford St John. There are many examples of villages being categorised as satellite villages in the Cherwell Local Plan i.e. Blackthorn, Claydon, Clifton, Great Bourton, Hempton, Lower Heyford, Middle Aston, Milton, Mollington, South Newington, and Wardington. There are other villages that demonstrate similar characteristics to West Adderbury

Our own West Adderbury Parish Council will:

Seek broad agreement on policy issues

Practise open book accountancy where voters have a say in spending

Maintain high standards of conduct

Refuse to tolerate bullying behaviour

Set a limit to the chair’s powers and term of office.

We have many intelligent, trustworthy and capable individuals willing to step up to provide the fair and effective governance we deserve. Men and women with a wealth of experience of local government who can guide and advise us in establishing a new council and make it happen. The clerk to Heyford Park Parish Council, Lorraine Watling is among those offering their services to help us establish an effective parish council.

The time for change is now. Justice delayed is justice denied. We believe this is the only way that trust and harmony can be restored. We have no hidden agenda. We simply want the right to deal with the issues that affect our part of the village and use the precept collected from West Adderbury to benefit West Adderbury residents.

The continued absence of fair, efficient or effective governance at the parish level subjects us to grave injustice. Our voice has been silenced. Our right to consideration and representation has been denied. We are simply asking for the opportunity to once again take responsibility for our own affairs and fulfil our potential as a community. East Adderbury and Twyford have a parish council which caters for their needs and interests. All West Adderbury wants is what the rest of the parish already has.

For all the reasons above we submit that only separation now can put an end to the irreconcilable differences poisoning our community – that only separation can restore community cohesion and, above all, secure for us the effective representation the law requires.

West Adderbury Residents Association

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