Electing to do Things (even more) Differently

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Local residents from Abergavenny, Llanfoist and Monmouth came together at two public meetings hosted by Abergavenny Transition Town (ATT), to discuss a different vision of how local government might work better at Community/Town Council level, and how this might require things to be done very differently.

In 2011 they fielded candidates in all the Ward elections, won a majority of the seats, and took control of the local Council. In the following election May 2015 they contested and won all 17 seats in the Town Council having demonstrated a track record of doing things differently. They have run the administration ever since. They believe that party politics and too much traditional protocol is counterproductive at Town Council level. What is important is that people come together to work for the benefit of all sections of the town, both councilors and community groups, irrespective of any party allegiance. It has worked well in Frome, so could it work in Abergavenny? This was the question at the heart of resident’s discussions at the Abergavenny ATT meeting.

It was clear from these discussions that evidence of needing to operate differently is all about us, but is frequently frustrated.

The Bryn Y Cwm Forum and then the Bryn Y Cwm Programme Board with the Whole Place Plan, sought to combine councillors and community activists: This has been collapsed. Party political area control has been re-instated .

Out of it shadow came Team Abergavenny (TA) another effort to expand the involvement and imagination of others alongside the councilors, seeking to tap the resident’s expertise and energy. TA is fronting a five-year-plan public consultation process (Methodist Hall December 5th).

Without that sort of push, joining up activists with councilors to act differently, we wouldn’t have got the quality of regenerated streets and squares completed this year, nor the potential new pedestrian and cyclist’s bridge across the Usk near the current Llanfoist road-bridge.

You only have to look at the different submissions on the MCC planning portal around the current Morrison’s supermarket application to see how the party political councilor’s submission is inadequate when seen against those of other community groups in the town. The talent of the town needs embracing, but party politics gets in the way.

And then those at the meeting asked how can the Town Council make an independent submission on this Morrisons application when six of the current Town Councillors are actually paid County Councillors as well, and this is in a County administration desperate to follow through the majority party dominated policy decision at County Hall to put a Morrsions supermarket in Abergavenny town centre as quickly as possible and of any quality. The deputy Mayor, County and Town Councilor John Prosser whose ward includes the Morrisons site made no comment on the application.

When it comes to the run-up to a new financial year, all the recent signs in Town Council minutes are that there will be off-loading of some services from County to the Town as public finances at County level tighten. All the best skills of the town’s residents will be needed to discuss how to embrace this and if this is feasible, with the Town Council acting as a ‘forum’ not a gate-keeper controlled by the current political party that dominates.

The Town Council tends not to be pro-active in engaging with the community. It reacts to crises. The ATT residents meetings concluded that they would like to see a Town Council that:-

1) has ambition and is proactive in taking things forward, provoking, promoting, and engaging with the talent in the town.
2) is run by elected Councilors who are independent of the political parties and committed to working differently with all communities in the town
3) is guided by Town councilors only, not people who are also County councilors

A number of those present indicated a willingness to stand in the May 2017 Town Council elections on a platform of distinct values that aims to work differently with the electorate. If you are also interested in standing for election embracing this intent or to help bring about an Abergavenny Town Council with ambition and openness, then leave your details at aberflatpackers@gmail.com Don’t leave it for four more years. This is the moment.

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Founder of Abergavenny Now and History graduate from Bath Spa University.

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