Monday, 21 January 2008

Shouldn’t a Public Inquiry be held in Public?

Conservatives and West Lindsey residents protest in anger at Liberal Democrats’ restriction of attendance by public and councillors at Citizens’ Jury.Conservative councillors and residents living across north-west Lincolnshire have reacted with anger to Liberal Democrat led West Lindsey District Council excluding district and county councillors together with interested members of the public from observing the proceedings of the Citizens’ Jury looking into the summer floods of 2007.

Conservative councillors at West Lindsey District Council are furious at being told by Cllr. Reginald Shore, the Leader of the Council, that they were not allowed to attend the Citizens’ Jury that took place at the new Council offices at Marshalls Yard in Gainsborough on Saturday 19th January 2008. The jury met in seclusion with representatives of Anglian Water, County Highways Department, the Environment Agency, Witham Drainage Boards, Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue, the Police, Severn Trent Water, council officers and other select invitees. The jury did not, as had been widely assumed by both councillors and residents, meet in open session.

County, District and Parish Councillors protested outside the New Guildhall brandishing placards asking “Shouldn’t a Public Inquiry be held in Public?” and collected signatures for a petition objecting to local residents’ elected representatives being barred from the meeting.

Cllr. Bernard Theobald, Conservative Group Leader said:
“The Council proclaims its values as ‘honest, professional and straightforward’ but this whole inquiry has been handled in a way that is anything but. Cllr. Shore has flip-flopped over the reasons for denying access – first it was because the room wasn’t big enough and now it is because “it is crucial to its success that the jury itself is not held in public”.
Cllr Meg Davidson who made the original suggestion last July that there should be a District-wide flood inquiry said:
"I represent an area which was badly affected by last summer’s floods and where there is now renewed anxiety as water levels are again running very high. I fully expected and intended to be present at the Inquiry on Saturday to observe the proceedings. I find it bizarre that the press was admitted to observe the Citizens’ Jury in action whilst the councillors, the elected representatives of the residents of West Lindsey were excluded."
Giles McNeill, Nettleham Parish Councillor said:
“We had several days of flooding in Nettleham, and it disgusts me that it has taken over six months to get answers from the various authorities; but I expected it to be a public event at which people like myself would be able to observe proceedings, even participate – I never imagined that it would be by invitation only and that they would need to pay people to attend!

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