COMMENT: A challenge to councillors at crucial moment in Arun’s future

Arun Civic Centre ENGSUS00120130227103532
Arun Civic Centre ENGSUS00120130227103532
  • Challenge to councillors ahead of key meeting
  • Public gallery times debate and hold sweepstakes
  • Committee meets for average of 33 minutes

Public outbursts during controversial council meetings is not uncommon – but aghast residents waving stopwatches is more unusual.

That was the reality last night, as the first of two crucial meetings over the future of Arun district ended in just 28 minutes.

Councillors are considering major changes to Arun District Council’s local plan this week. Click here to find out more.

The key document could confirm the authority’s support for 20,000 homes to be built across the area up until 2031.

Recognising the huge array of complex studies under consideration, the sensible decision was made to split the workload between two meetings.

But after just one councillor spoke last night, many wondered whether it was necessary.

In November, Westergate resident and former councillor Tony Dixon branded the lack of debate ‘pathetic’.

He said the committee had met for a paltry average of 36 minutes over the course of nine meetings. The average has since dropped to 33 minutes.

And Mr Dixon was among the hardcore group in the public gallery who expressed their dismay over the latest non-debate, highlighting the swiftness of proceedings.

Quality is, of course, always better than quantity. There is not an optimum meeting duration.

One of the committee was keen to point out after the meeting that the topic had been subject of numerous private briefings.

To that end, councillors were, they assured, on top of the contentious subject.

But what councillors perhaps fail to realise is the perception a lack of debate creates.

How are residents to know if their elected representatives engaged in the briefings? How do they know what their views are?

Briefings behind closed doors are understandable – but elected representatives could save unwanted hassle by informing those who voted for them what they think.

Failing to conduct a reasonable debate amid ongoing criticism – in which regular attendees now hold a social media sweepstake over the predicted length of debates – is bizarre.

The subject is divisive enough. Difficult decisions could effectively turn swathes of green spaces into future housing estates. We sympathise with the predicament the committee finds itself in.

New homes are desperately needed, yet the level of growth expected raises questions over the ability of the district’s infrastructure to cope.

The councillors have enough on their plates, without the metaphorical self-flagellation.

With this in mind, we have a challenge for the local plan sub-committee.

Thursday’s meeting will see housing numbers top of the agenda.

Each and every member of the committee should have no difficulty in speaking out. Every councillor should contribute.

They are not there just to be a sea of arms, raising their hands to push recommendations through.

Councillors: tell the electorate what you think.

Find links to webcasts of this week’s meetings here.