Andy Norman is a resident in Heath Hayes, part of the Hednesford & Rawnsley County Division. He sent all the county council candidates a list of questions, and we've decided to publish our responses. Many thanks to Andy for allowing us to publish this.

 

 

Q1.
Do you personally believe the consultation, regarding plans for the future management of Cannock chase, was adequate?
Paul: 

I do not believe that “website visits” are in anyway at all relevant to the findings of a consultation.

Visits can be made by “bots” and website crawlers at any point on a regular basis. My understanding is that of those who completed the consultation the overwhelming majority were against the proposals. If we were to buy into the argument around website visits then based on those who didn’t complete the consultation there would have been an even higher ratio rejections against the proposals.

In anyway shape or form you look at the consultation, it failed. As you know this is one of the major concerns we raised in our “positioning statement” we made last year. 

In my personal view, a plan so wide ranging cannot have been considered to have successfully completed consultation with such a small subset of completions.

It’s also my view when a political party has over riding control on a council, it doesn’t matter how loud, passionate or committed an opposition councillor is, it’ll be hard for your voice to be heard or considered. This is unfortunately a frustration of politics.

We need a better mix of voices, for me it doesn’t matter on the colour as long as those who are elected have the loud/passionate/committed traits I listed above.

Emma:

To answer the question simply: in my personal view the consultation was neither adequate nor meaningful.

The SAC representative quoted does not address the drop-off between users accessing the website and those actually completing the survey, and I have questions around how well-signposted the survey will have been even on the SAC’s own website if so few people clicked through. Circa 8000 people reaching the website is also not a high number when you consider the number of impacted residents and businesses across Cannock Chase, raising further questions about how well the SAC promoted the plans/consultation to residents.

The figure completing the survey is quoted as 130, however my own research shows that only 78 of those people actually answered questions on car parking charges, which makes the pool of respondents even smaller.

78 individuals cannot be considered a statistically robust sample when making significant changes to the approach to car parking on Cannock Chase, changes which will impact tens of thousands of people.

It is concerning that the consultation was so small, and more concerning still that there is little evidence of the SAC’s effort being directed towards making the consultation visible to interested parties. Whatever the intention may have been, the impact is that residents feel they were not taken on the journey: many people have told me they feel that the consultation was “hidden”, leaving them unable to provide their views, which is a poor outcome for democracy.

Q2.
In retrospect and for future important decisions such as the tip and the chase, wouldn't it be more obliging to hand pick councillors that live close to the topic for committees and final judgements?
Paul: 

As you know the tip and the HWRC are under the management of Staffordshire County Council. As the council is under Conservative control they will appoint cabinet with specialist responsibilities. Clearly they aren’t always going to serve the areas in which they represent geographically. That’s why at a district level we’d like to see the removal of cabinet and replaced with a committee structure. Everyone then no matter their political allegiance has the same level of responsibility, the same interest, the ability to really make a difference.

As we’re independent and each councillor is from the areas they are standing we can ensure that we aren’t influenced by politics at a party level. We can make our own decisions based on the needs and wants of the community where we live. Also I may have a different opinion on policy to Emma Hunneyball and although it would be great if we’re on the same page, we can absolutely go different ways on votes without the threat of “whip removal” or party disciplinary action. Worth nothing we’re both really community focussed and I can’t remember a time we’ve not agreed on something, could happen though! 

So in conclusion yes I agree geography is important however if you’re tied to a party system this very rarely makes a difference when it comes down to votes or communication. I don’t believe that deep down local Conservative County Councillors were happy with regards to the decisions made for Cannock Chase however they’ve had to tow the party line and “stay on message” for the good of their party, which is why politics is so broken now.

If elected we’ll ensure we always put the people before politics, it’s our strap line and it’s our strap line for a reason.

Emma:

A County Councillor is elected to the Council for the whole of Staffordshire, and as such can expect to be involved in issues from all over the County. On an intellectual level, it is quite feasible for a Councillor who has never set foot in Cannock Chase, to read and understand the documentation in the Car Parking Proposals, for example, and come to an informed decision.

However in extremely contentious issues it is clear that local knowledge helps inform a richer understanding of the issue, and provides reassurance to residents that their point of view has been considered and is understood. Time and again residents tell us they want to be represented by people who live within the Division: this is why Chase Community Independents are the only party who can say all their candidates live in the area they ask to serve. With such a clear directive around candidates from the public, it surely follows that on decisions of this import the public would prefer local Councillors to be involved.

However in recent cases, for example the Chase Parking proposals, none of the local Conservative County Councillors, at least two of whom were on Cabinet, spoke up against the proposals, despite arguably already having that local knowledge. My view here is that local knowledge was trumped by the party line, as once the Administration decided upon a position, no one dissented despite overwhelming public concern. This is where Independents can really add value: we have no “party line” and are therefore free to act and decide in the best interests of our residents.   

Q3.
What are your personal opinions regarding Populars landfill site? Do you think they are a good neighbour? Do you have any particular policies or restriction ideas which could help to improve relations?
Paul: 

Are they a good neighbour?

Short answer no. I’ve driven down Orbital Way this morning and the build of rubbish along the grass verge is appalling. There is no pro-active work done other than road sweeping lane one by Biffa. It is there responsibility to keep these areas maintained and free from clutter. There are currently a number of barbed wire sections in cased with plastic rubbish. When there are issues I like to publish my correspondence, are the council being effective, let the residents decide. Obviously we have seen the issue around the Household Waste Recycling Centre commercial vehicles, waste build up, untidy site etc.

You can see my email to SCC around this here

“Hi,

 

It was good to meet you briefly last week at Cannock Household Refuse Site when you were looking into the overflowing bins issue. It’s good to see someone being pro-active with regards to issues and it’s greatly appreciated.

 

I do have a number of concerns with regards to the site though and I hope you’ll be able to assist me with these.

 

Amey Staff PPE

 

My Husband went on Thursday, it was really busy, no masks worn by staff or people dropping off rubbish, and multiple people at same bins, distancing didn't seem to matter, This is only 2nd time used tip in 12mnths, Face masks aren't used by anyone either he was only one again in a mask, and last time it was my Husband & Son One of the workers said to them, don't need wear your face ask here we have not got anything. My husband was fuming when he got home, But now he been again few months on and just as bad, Perhaps someone should tell workers they should read what was on the site originally about distance & masks be helpful.

 

What are the rules around site staff wearing Face Mask coverings?

 

Site Cleanliness

 

“We’ve noticed since Amey took over a decline in the standards at the recycle plant. The waste that is strewn across the site now is very often dangerous. We’ve also has punctures after leaving there.”

 

I’ve also noticed a significant build up in debris across the site and stuck into trees and fencing, it’s not obvious who the leadership team, supervisor/manager is at the site on any given day to pass this feedback to, could this be addressed and they be identifiable?

 

Landfill Review

 

“ I’ve asked this question a few times before , not of you btw, but, last year there should have been a five year review of the Poplars Landfill regarding its final height, girth , mass etc . I don’t think it went ahead. Could you find out any information on that at all please ?”

 

Did this happen?

 

Congestion / Booking System

 

Congestion is a significant issue, I overlook the entrance to the site and a number of days this week the traffic has been backed up onto the traffic island. Birmingham City Council operate a booking system to prevent congestion, this also allows them to ensure those who attend the site are from within the areas covered by the refuse site. Could this be considered as an option?

 

Commercial Vehicle Use of Refuse Site

 

I’ve used the refuse site extensively over the last few months and have noticed an alarming increase in the number of commercial vehicles entering the site, a separate lane has even been created for their use. These vehicles are clearly not from our area, I’m aware for instance that Walsall MBC do not allow commercial vehicles at all. My understanding is that each vehicle should a) have a waste carriers licence and b) pay a fee of at least £81 (as per https://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/Waste-and-recycling/SmallTradersWasteDisposalScheme.aspx). We submitted a Freedom of Information Requestion to SCC (attached) and found that on average only 3 commercial vehicles PER DAY were actually paying any fee at all and the max in any one day on Jan and Feb of this year was 9. Bearing in mind there have been at least 4 commercial vehicles on site on almost every visit I’ve made to the site, how can only 3 vehicles per day be paying the fee? What governance is in place to ensure and support Amey Staff when challenging commercial operatives over fees?

Emma:

Yes, the Poplars Landfill site is a massive local issue. The smell, the inefficient management of the recycling centre and the traffic are all symptoms of serious problems- and the problems themselves require detailed investigation and action. 

As you know I work closely with Paul Dadge, and he has already begun this investigation work. I am sure that in his answer he will want to share the work he is doing to understand some of the root causes of the problems at the tip, and I have no desire to steal his thunder on that score. I will say that there is evidence of poor administration of the tip, particularly commercial waste, which underpins not only problems at the site, but is also a significant contributor to generating traffic around “tip island”.

Paul’s investigations are ongoing- as I may have said before, our work is always rooted in facts. Our emerging view however is that proper management of the tip, for example by charging commercial vehicles correctly, could be the linchpin of a better infrastructure for that area, and healthier finances for the County Council. 

Q4.
Do you truthfully believe that County and MP level councillors are truly in touch with their constituents.
Do you have suggestions of how such a person could keep better informed of needs and opinions , for example regular opinion polls?
Paul: 

I think there has to be a balance. I previously stood for parliament so I have a good understanding of the challenges faced by politicians. As you move up the political landscape, the amount of work and correspondence increases, however so does the pay. It’s important that any MP has a team around them who listens. I HATE generic letters, I believe that if someone spends the time to send me an email I should spend the time sending a personal reply. There is a “however” though. Throughout this campaign I’ve been contacted by approx. 3 residents with queries including yourself. MPs not only have to deal with constituents issues but get lobbied by national and global groups. That’s why the team is important, that they’re well briefed and have a deep understanding of the person they work for. I have no idea who works in Amanda Millings office and never have done, this is quite unusual as through my lobbying work for Hacked Off I know many personal assistances across all parties but as for Amanda I wouldn’t have a clue.

Lets move on to county. I actually think Phil Hewitt is the ONLY County Councillor locally who has a reasonable “touch” with residents, the others are completely absent. You’ve clearly seen the work I’ve put in and this is not election specific, whether elected or not this will continue. After sending you this email I’ll be writing to Staffordshire County Council to ask why they haven’t updated me on the tip situation and once I’ve done that I’ll update residents on the response. I said somewhere the other day, if you do this job to it’s full potential it wont be worth the allowance you receive, that’s fine by me because that’s not why I do it.

On the final point of opinion polls we’ve obviously carried out a number of surveys over the past few months, this is crucial for me. I genuinely want to represent the residents views and the best way to do this is via listening and collating opinion. This is what our group is all about. We don’t care about the politics but we do care about our local area so we can concentrate on that as opposed to having to deflect questions on Boris’s Wallpaper. We can as a result get more done!

Emma: 

I think that as an individual progresses in the political sphere there is certainly a risk of them losing touch with residents: their efforts are usually spread over a wider area, and increased responsibility, for example with cabinet roles, can mean that while they are still serving residents, their direct link to those who elected them can become weaker. 

I feel that this risk can be mitigated, but it very much depends on the individual. As a Town Councillor one of the things I enjoy most is being close to the individual residents I serve, and having a keen grasp of their concerns. As a County Councillor my plan is to engage with all town and parish councils in Hednesford and Rawnsley, attending their meetings and working collaboratively to understand priorities and act on them. I also think a lot can be done by engaging with local community groups. They hold a vast amount of knowledge about, and relationships with, local residents and working collaboratively with them could yield fantastic results. 

Paul and I come from a group that is focused on putting the resident at the centre of what we do. Our group has regularly reached out for views on issues: sometimes, as with the Chase parking proposals, that’s via online survey, sometimes it’s been through recording an informational video or broadcasting a zoom round-table discussion and asking for views on social media. We also created Chase TV, which became a regular place once a week to share what’s going on and receive information from the public. 

Covid has understandably restricted some planned activities: we had planned to do regular and ad-hoc “knock and drop” surveys, and plans to mobilise councillor surgeries were put on hold: these will gradually pick up as restrictions ease.