What became of grassroots democracy?

In November 2013, Lesbury Parish Council voted to support a planning application made by Northumberland Estates to build eight houses in the heart of the village conservation area.

The parish council members did not speak at the meeting to explain why they favoured the proposal, but voted when invited by the chairman.

Concerned residents asked the parish council to explain why they thought this development would benefit the village and the conservation area and why they ignored the written and spoken objections expressed unanimously by the villagers?

The parish clerk invited parishioners to ‘put their questions regarding reasons for approval at the upcoming meeting of the parish council when all reasonable and relevant questions would be happily answered’.

This was welcome news from a parish council that has signed up to a national code of conduct which upholds seven principles, including integrity, honesty and openness.

So you can imagine the disappointment when parish council chairman John Wright told parishioners: “The parish council is not obliged to give residents any reasons to explain its majority approval of this planning application.”

He refused all questions, stifled any debate and closed the matter. At least we can console ourselves that our elected representatives at County Hall and Westminster cannot display such audacious contempt and hope for re-election. It seems grassroots democracy in Lesbury is more akin to George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Long live Napoleon.

Drs Christopher M Benjamin and Gill J Lyons,

Crofts Green,

Riverside, Lesbury