As cycle lane decision looms, councillors row about meeting rules

Rules that pre-dated modern computers and which required councillors to attend meetings in person made no sense, according to the Green leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty spoke out as a decision was reached to go back to business as normal from the start of next month.

The move follows a number of changes brought in as part of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

When the first lockdown started more than a year ago, the government brought in a temporary change in the law to allow councillors to meet and vote electronically. Previously they were required to be physically present.

The temporary law lapsed in May but, with various covid-related restrictions still in place, the council agreed to hold most town hall meetings with the minimum number of councillors required.

This was intended to allow social distancing to be maintained until all councillors had had a chance to have their covid vaccinations, and with some decision-making still entrusted to officials.

But Conservative councillor Robert Nemeth said: “The agreed system is becoming a tool to escape scrutiny.”

Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “There are the massive contradictions of a national Conservative Party in government that refuses to allow us to have virtual safe meetings while we have their local Conservative counterparts, having agreed ‘reduced attendance’, spending every opportunity calling it undemocratic.

“The idea that, in 2021, we are shackled by 50-year-old legislation before we had computers is wrong.”

He told the full council meeting which was attended by 14 out of the 54 councillors last Thursday (15 July) that people might wonder why two senior councillors were absent.

It was because the mayor, Councillor Alan Robins, and Councillor Amy Heley, who chairs the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee, were both self-isolating as covid continues to spread.

The council is one of several to support calls for the law to change to allow virtual meetings or to permit a mix of members attending either in person or remotely.

Councillor Mac Cafferty said that it would be necessary to keep the situation under review because the world was still in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic.

The number of new cases was increasing in Brighton and Hove, particularly among the 18 to 25 age group.

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty

Every two weeks, the council’s chief executive Geoff Raw would review the latest measures in consultation with the three political group leaders.

Councillor Nemeth said that other councils had been imaginative, citing Weymouth Town Council which held a meeting of 29 councillors on the beach.

He also criticised a decision to call a special meeting at which three councillors would make a number of big decisions affecting local roads and cycle lanes, including the future of the temporary Old Shoreham Road cycle lane.

Councillor Nemeth said: “How anybody thought it would be acceptable to decide the cycle lane issue, a set of far-reaching proposals that will affect the city for decades, with just three councillors present is mind-boggling.

“It should have been diarised after the end of the month or in a different or much more imaginative format such as in a large hall.”

The Conservatives had called for an emergency council meeting to decide matters, including the future of the controversial cycle lane along Old Shoreham Road.

A compromise was brokered – and now all 10 members of the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee, rather than just three, will make the key decisions on Wednesday (21 July).

The Labour joint opposition leader John Allcock said that, with limited numbers, the council had maintained democracy while staying safe and following advice from the city’s director of public health.

But, Councillor Allcock said: “I believe democracy’s happened. Sometimes it feels a little bit clumsy, but it’s happening – and people can engage in that.

“I think we’ve had more website views than we’ve ever had during this process and I think that’s really important.”

  1. Nathan Adler Reply

    3 or 10 councillors vote to remove the OSR cycle lane and democracy will have been served. We have had the meaningful consultation and respondents were clear it needs to go. It’s only defenders now are Chris Williams and Green councillors who can’t tell a bad cycle lane from a good cycle lane.

  2. Anon, Hove Reply

    Get cycle lanes everywhere.
    We don’t need polluting cars
    Keep the sea air clean and the body pure
    We should be spending more time on bikes or in the sea
    Mindfulness and exercise is so important for our health
    Cycling should be for the many not the few

  3. Billy Short Reply

    I want to pull out my hair when I read reports like these.
    We have important issues to be discussed and decided upon, and yet apparently it boils down to an argument about how many councillors can attend a meeting.

    You can see how for me, as a resident, this seems like one party or another, trying to bend the rules to get the decisions they want.
    The fact that no party has an overall majority makes this behaviour only worse – it’s undemocratic and less representative for the local community.

    And this is very frustrating when you/we can also see that cult views have taken over the council and that lobbyists are getting influence way beyond their due.

    In this case – the cycle lane debacle – the general public have been consulted and residents views are clear, and that’s despite obvious attempts to sway the survey’s response with an unhelpful layout of questions asked. It’s also despite the lies made about increased cycle use, and despite all the propaganda campaigns and the cheesy photos of smiling families on bikes, all rolled out for the camera and yet never seen again.
    Organisations like Bricycles , Sustrans, and Extinction Rebellion all started as lobbying groups I personally supported, but they now appear to be fanatics and fantasists who will ignore any majority view with religious zeal.

    And the reasonable view is that we don’t mind cycle lanes but not in the wrong place where no-one chooses to use them. We already had cycle lanes and a really good seafront cycle route which I use several times a week!
    The duplication of the seafront cycle lane is a further over-stepping of the mark when it’s used as an excuse to narrow the road in a major transport thoroughfare.

    Above all, the councillors seem unable to come together to deliver us a logical and sustainable city-wide transport strategy – and that’s one which looks beyond the cycling obsession of the few.
    Please look at a map. How do we get from east to west and from south to north in this city? And how do we get to work on a cold and windy rainy day?
    And that’s separate from leisure questions like: Where is a nice space for a Sunday morning cycle with my kids.
    Where are the park and ride schemes? Where is the better public transport that flows efficiently? When are the electric forms of transport people now want to use going to be properly catered for?
    Let’s have some honest and pragmatic vision here.

    When are our councillors going to grow out of their school playground squabbling view of things?
    It’s curious that we probably all want the same sustainable but realistic future, but no political party has got this right. And apparently you can’t even organise a safe space for yourselves to talk these issues over.

  4. Richard Daughtrey Reply

    I totally agree with Billy on this.

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