Transparency can ensure fair play
Dear Sir, — Winston Churchill famously stated that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.
For democracy to work though, it requires openness and transparency. It was with some consternation therefore when I discovered that an item on the Planning Committee of Alsager Town Council held on 17th July was to be heard in private. Members of the public and the Press were excluded from the meeting and had to leave. There is a presumption in democratic institutions that information should be available to all and that this should be the default position. Obviously there are some circumstances where this is inappropriate, for example if decisions are to be taken that are confidential or where there is commercial sensitivity.
However, the item to be held without councillors being held open to public scrutiny was described as “to receive an update on the widening of Close Lane” and was to be presented by Coun Fletcher. As all local residents will know, the stretch of road being referred to is dangerous for pedestrians. With the ever-increasing volume of traffic brought about by substantial developments in the area the situation is due to get worse. This is a matter of concern for the public and options to address this are obviously of public interest.
It has been claimed by Coun Fletcher that he was wrongly advised by an officer of Cheshire East Council that this matter was confidential and therefore should be heard in private. However, the proposal to have a footpath on this stretch of road has been in the public domain since at least 2016. It formed part of the revised plan for the Paddocks housing development (reference number 16/3310N). It has also been flagged up as approved in a political party leaflet.
We expect our representatives to exercise their responsibilities as community leaders with a commitment to being accountable and open to scrutiny. Without the eyes of the media on political decision-making and without challenge from the public our democracy that we are proud of comes under threat.
We all know that mistakes happen and I would prefer it when they do for people to accept their errors and correct them and learn the lessons.
I ask then for two actions, firstly for the committee to have this item put back on the next agenda to be debated in front of the public. And, secondly, for there to be greater clarity on what items are debated in private and for a clear policy to be drawn up to prevent this kind of error repeating itself in the future. It is only by such transparency that we can ensure fair play. — Yours faithfully,
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