Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Setting the record straight

Over the past week, there's been far more heat than light around the subject of the QE 6th Form's College's proposed extension into the back of the Arts Centre.

The matter boiled over at Council, when opposition members got the wrong end of the stick of some comments made by Council Leader John Williams.

Happily, this evening's Cabinet meeting, where the matter could be discussed in an informed way, was a much more satisfactory affair. You can read the paper which went to Cabinet here.

We start from the principle that Darlington has one of the most successful 6th Form Colleges in the country, but one which is severely constrained by the historic site it occupies. The College would like to expand, providing a first class education for more of the Borough's young people. At the same time, the rear of the Arts Centre is run down, and the building needs money spending on it.

Although some tentative discussions have taken place, initiated by the 6th Form College thgemselves, it required this evening's formal decision to kickstart meaningful consultation. Very unfortunately, the local ward councillors weren't privy to the early discussions, and both the Leader and portfolio holder Andy Scott apologised to Ian Galletley and Tony Richmond for the oversight.

Of course, as the press coverage has made clear, a future extension to the 6th Form College could affect the youth theatre, the garden bar, and the media workshop group amongst others.

Nothing has been decided, and any scoping will have to consider how facilities might be reprovided and improved if the extension proceeds. No-one should lose sight of the prize, however, of an expansion of our excellent 6th Form College.

The debate tonight was much more measured - both Ian Galletley and Heather Scott made thoughtful contributions and asked questions - the College ward councillors have linked in with the management of the 6th Form College, opening an important line of communication as far as they and their residents are concerned.

The dog that didn't bark, yet again, was the Liberal Democrat group contribution. Martin Swainston was happy to sound off in the paper alleging that the Council was using the sale to "balance the books" (rubbish, by the way) but typically, when the matter is actually debated, Swainston didn't even bother to turn up. He was subbed (yet again) by my blogging colleague Mike Barker, who sat on his hands and stayed mute.

No doubt in the future, if there's easy slurs to be made, or cheap headlines to be grabbed, the LibDems will be at the front. Don't expect anything sensible or constructive from them, however, on this key issue for the Borough.


ex-labour said...


Is it possible. yes or no, that in the near future the new £300K building/theatre etc could be knocked down?

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes....

The report in the Northern Echo quoted a number of groups who use the Arts Centre and who will be adversely affected by the proposals. These groups as the report clearly shows have expressed concerns.

Does Darlington Borough Council not have a convention that anything which happens in a ward must be notified to the ward councillor so that he or she can discuss the proposals with the people in the ward? That is the very essence of democracy in this country - sounding out people's views and communicating it back to the Council as the representative of the people. If there isn't a convention shouldn't there be one?

If only the ruling party is being informed by officers that is wrong. How on earth are ward councillors going to do their job properly if they do not know what is going on?

Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks, both.

Alan - you're right, the Conservative councillors should have been involved from the start. That's why, as I've indicated, Cllrs. Galletley and Richmond (who both took the trouble to turn up to the Cabinet meeting today) received apologies from the Cabinet member Andy Scott and Council Leader John Williams.

Cock-ups happen - I don't know the circumstances behind these events, but I suspect it may be because the Arts Centre is a town-wide resource rather than a purely ward feature.

Officers are well-used to dealing with matters on a ward basis, but I wonder whether the Central councillors are always spoken to when changes to the Dolphin Centre, the Civic or the Town Hall are suggested? Yet they are facilities within their ward which happen to serve the town.

It's important, however, that lessons are learnt from the oversight.

Can it be right, however, for the LibDem group leader to mouth off in the press about this issue (misleading the public when he does so) and then fail to turn up when the matter is debated?

Frankly, amongst Darlington councillors of all parties, Martin Swainston is developing "form" for this approach, which does your party, Alan, no credit at all.

After all, if you have time to carefully construct quotes for a Northern Echo journalist, surely you should be prepared to come to the meetings where the issue is actually taken forward?

For all their many faults, the Tories were at least at the meeting, arguing and debating as an opposition should.

I've no idea what the outcome will be of this matter. At some point, however, Darlington LibDems have got to decide whether they're going to remain a bunch of political chancers, or develop into something more serious.

Ex-Labour - I don't know what the outcome of the consultation will be. The question will have to be addessed in the process - whether the presence of a recently-built theatre can act as a veto to any greater redevelopment of the site, come what may.

Anonymous said...

Please expand further as to exactly what "form" means.

Darlington Councillor said...

Well, Gill, I suppose "form" means a set of behaviours which lead to a person acquiring a reputation.

I wonder where this is going....?

Anonymous said...

I wonder..
I thought all politicians had a reputation of some sort. The world of politics even at local level is not habited by people of a wallflower nature. The nature of the people involved is that they have principles, opinions and passion.
Of course as members of different parties we do not agree with each others views, sometimes we do.
The role of the opposition is to challenge and clearly Martin is doing that quite sucessfully given the level of pique...
You are hardly in a position to accuse anyone of spin Nick, given your reputation as the Darlington Labour groups spinmeister...

Darlington Councillor said...

But I'm not accusing him of spin, Gill. I've no problem with members of any party explaining their group's policy positions - after all, that's part of what this blogs all about, and yours and your husbands, and Mike Barkers.

I simply have no time for politicians, be they local or national, who get easy lines in the press and think they've done a fantastic job, and don't bother to show the basic respect of then being there when the issue is properly debated. It shows a certain type of arrogance which galls me.

Still, it's good to know there's a Martin Swainston Fan Club in the Tory Group. From my knowledge of your group members, Gill, I'm not sure the Fan Club's AGM needs a venue bigger than a phone box.... :)

Anonymous said...

You mistake a fan club for stating some obvious facts.
what is even funnier is that you think you know what goes on within our group, I cant beleive that a politician of your experience really beleives that. What you think you know and what is fact are most likely in reality very different and I am referring to generally, not in relation to Martin.
There may be a Nick Wallis fan club in the Tory group, who knows....thats the point you dont know....

Darlington Councillor said...

Well, I could make a joke about bugging Tory Group meetings, but in the current febrile climate, I don't think I'll bother.

Nuff said!

Anonymous said...

just a small matter nick..
when you are describing the attributes of other councillors .. did you orget that as a councillor you are actually elected to represent the people of your ward and to work with other elected councillors (whatever their political beliefs) for the good and benefit of ALL the people of darlington?
by the way just what happened to the "thorn" part of your name? or was it just not enough 'northern labour' for you now you're established in darlington?
i post as annon simply because my password is missing at the minute.

Darlington Councillor said...

Well, whoever you are, yes of course we are elected to work together to achieve the best for town, where that's possible

I don't see the point you are making here.