The Andover Town Council (ATC) Forum is a new initiative to invite members of the public to engage with local issues and to get involved. News of the forum hit the internet on Tuesday evening and was met with immediate criticism for the short notice.
Andover and Villages attended to cover the meeting along with our 16yo trainee photographer.
Geoff McBride was listed as a ‘Keynote Speaker’ for the evening and opened the meeting by discussing the ‘Rules’ that were written, clearly, on a board in front of the seats, which were arranged in a semi circle.
The attendance to the Andover Forum was around 25 with around 13 members of the public. Local councillors sat amongst the public.
- Only one person speaks at a time
- Be brief and concise
- Respect others
- Please identify yourself and who you represent
Geoff McBride started by saying that he was a local man, that his children attended school in Andover and that his wife and family were all from Andover, he said he was very familiar with forums and that they were his first experience of local politics, when he attended forums 5 years ago, regarding planning applications in Acre Path, which is where Geoff McBride lives.
Geoff McBride explained that the ATC had tried to find ways to communicate with the public, and how to get them to attend meetings to discuss important local issues. The ATC were desperate to communicate with Andover and so looked to Romsey and their forum initiative that, on occasion, had attracted some 300 local people to their forums on local issues.
Geoff McBride asked the room to agree and respect the rules written on the board, and asked everyone if it was okay. No one objected.
Geoff McBride said it was much like Manuela Wahnon’s Attitude of Gratitude campaign, which was all about respect.
A member of the public asked if the meeting would be fluid, or if it would have an agenda.
Sandra Hawke said that no one knew.
Manuella Wahnon asked if people were allowed to speak more than once.
Geoff McBride said yes.
Liz Ferla interrupted to ask Geoff McBride who he was.
Geoff McBride answered and explained that he wanted to form a forum, after using one 5 years ago to object to a planning application regarding the road he lived on. Geoff McBride said the forums he attended attracted 6-9 people each time.
Len Gates said that forums in the past didn’t work because they were more like a councillor’s surgery.
Andy Fitchett said that the Romsey forum was facilitated by Mark Cooper, in a non political way, and was not a party-led initiative. It was about the public being able to influence policy.
Geoff McBride said that experts would be invited along to meetings to help explore issues, and that a better facilitator would be in order to run the forums.
A member of the public, who said he was a Liberal Democrat activist, said that he had seen news of the meeting on the Positive Andover Facebook page, but there was a deeper advertising campaign to ensure everyone knew about the forums.
Geoff McBride said Twitter had been discussed as a tool, but it was understood Facebook was more interactive.
Barbara Long and Nigel Long arrived and were asked to sign in.
Geoff McBride said he wanted the public to come along.
Liz Ferla said that more than 48 hours notice was required, if he wanted the public there.
Geoff McBride said that the decision was made to just get on with it and arrange the forum, because ATC had been talking about it for 2 years and it just wasn’t moving forward.
Liz Ferla said that if it had waited 2 years another week wouldn’t have mattered.
Geoff McBride said that the forum was going ahead and there would be more notice for the next one.
A member of the public said that the hour given to the forum is not enough time and that, as it was early in the evening, many people wouldn’t be able to attend.
Geoff McBride said that they could look at arranging it on another evening that was not before the council meeting, but that he hoped if the public came to the forum, they would stay for the meeting afterwards.
A Member of the Public said that it was worth trying it like that and, if it didn’t work, then it could be changed.
Karen Hamilton said that, if the forum was able to get some juicy subjects, then more people would be attracted to come along and discuss, and that perhaps committees could be made up of members of the public in the form of action groups.
Liz Ferla said, “Sub Committees Sub Committees Sub Committees,” then said that there were loads of committees, Test Valley Borough Council, Town, Local and that it drags things on and on.
Karen Hamilton said that the council has to have sub committees because 19 people in a room struggle to get things done. Sub committees are small groups of people that are able to make decisions and action them.
Liz Ferla said that things go up the chain and come back down again, and nothing ever gets anywhere.
Geoff McBride said there are terms of reference, and looked to Steven Hardcastle to explain more.
Steven Hardcastle said that ATC had looked at the terms of reference and a change had been made to allow sub committees to make decisions and can crack on with making them.
Geoff McBride asked if it was worth doing.
Liz Ferla said yes.
Geoff McBride said that ATC had received many emails with subject suggestions for the forum that included:
- War Memorial
- Bridal Paths
Chris Gregory said that A-Boards were a big issue at that time, but he felt there were many more issues that should be dealt with strategically.
Geoff McBride said that it would be useful to advertise a list of ideas and ask the public, through the website or internet, what they would like to discuss. He went on to say, “I want people in the room; I want people here.” He went on to say he could perhaps lay biscuits on for those who came along.
This was met with much laughter.
Sandra Hawke said that in the olden days (1995) there were still on 6/7 people attending forums, that there were always experts on hand to answer questions and advise, but most people attending just wanted to have a go at them. Sandra Hawke went on to say that Members of the Public just want answers, and asked if councillors are just going to sit around talking about things or are they going to sort things out? Sandra Hawke asked, will there be an end result or just chitchat.
Geoff McBride said he didn’t want a therapy session.
Sandra Hawke said it was about talking.
Karen Hamilton said that their role as councillors was to be a mediator between people and issues, and that not everything has a right answer, but they could connect people to the right people to get the answers.
Andy Fitchett said that the Andover Forum would be like the Romsey one and that experts would be on hand to help, just like the A-board issue could mean Hants County Council could be on hand to explain the legislation that has prompted the request for removing them.
Barbara Long said she wanted to say much of the same as Andy Fitchett. The forum needs experts to explain matters that people don’t understand. Barbara Long went on to say that the forum can help people take action forward and provide an action plan.
Sandra Hawke said that the previous Andover forum generally had people attend to ‘throw bricks’ at councillors, and it was great fun to be a part of.
Liz Ferla whispers across to Richard Belle.
Geoff McBride said the forum could have a notice board.
Barbara Long said that it would be useful to get everyone’s email address who attends the meeting so they can be informed of the next one and any subsequent minutes.
Andy Fitchett said he had purposefully left the email address field out of the sign in sheet.
Geoff McBride asked if everyone wanted emails taken.
A Member of the Public said that in 1968 councils were democratic, but they were not any more and that TVBC is now undemocratic, and that he would like the forum to campaign for a democratic council.
Len Gates said that was a campaign issue.
Chris Gregory said that attendance is often low, because people want action and that it’s important to have experts on hand to explain issues and matters.
Chris Gregory went on to say that Andover’s community needs a vision developed for the town centre. He said that no one had seen a full vision for the town.
Manuella Wahnon asked if the chairs could be arranged in a circle.
Andy Fitchett said there were many ways of arranging the chairs, but that he felt the semi circle was the best way to go initially.
Katherine Bird said that she loved Andover town and that she shops in the town and gets everything she needs with a little top up from the internet, but was wanting everyone to work together and come together for the town.
A Member of the Public asked what happened to the items from the recent Encounters Shop in Andover.
Katherine Bird said that Alex Hoare from Test Valleys Arts had the items and was sorting through them to turn them into a vision for Andover.
Iris Andersen said that she loved Andover and she had brought all her children up here, and did all her shopping locally because, as she does not drive, she finds everything in Andover. IA said that she, CG and Janet Thorpe had recently launched a local competition for children to find items in shop windows and she had overheard someone saying, “I didn’t know there were so many shops in Andover”.
Manuella Wahnon applauded.
Liz Ferla started to speak when the trainee photographer, sitting 10-15 feet away lifted his camera to take a picture as he had throughout the meeting.
Liz Ferla screamed across to him, “DON’T TAKE MY PICTURE!”
The photographer lowered his camera to a stunned room.
Geoff McBride started to speak, which was not noted down, because of the shock of him ignoring the outburst from Liz Ferla, as well as not upholding the rules that were not only explained at the start of the forum, but were also clearly written on a board some 5 feet from where Liz Ferla was sat.
When Geoff McBride stopped speaking, Chris Gregory said that he was sorry, but felt it needed to be said that Liz Ferla’s attitude to the photographer was extremely rude.
Liz Ferla said it was rude to take her picture without permission.
Chris Gregory said that was fine, but the photographer was a young lad, who did not deserve to be spoken to so rudely and that if she did not want her photograph taken she could have said politely, ‘Please don’t take my picture.’
Liz Ferla did not reply.
A Member of the Public said there was constant whinging from the press for a Harvey Nichols, why the rates can’t be reduced etc. etc. and asked that there be matters like that discussed in the forum.
Steven Hardcastle spoke about the neighbourhood plan and that things were nearing completion, as well as the plan was nearing being ready to be revealed and it would be the end of September/beginning of October.
Manuella Wahnon said that there was generally too much talking, and sometimes things just required someone to just go out and do it. She went on to say that Chris Gregory was a perfect example of that. He wants to do something and just does it.
Barbara Carpenter said that she agreed with everything MW had said.
Karen Hamilton said communication is key and that the use of the Andover Advertiser, local radio and social media should be used regularly.
Liz Ferla said people only respond if it interests them.
Veronika Pond said she wasn’t hearing everything, as people speak into their chest and do not project their voice.
Geoff McBride apologised and said they were looking into new sound systems.
Sandra Hawke said that if the next forum was in two months, it would give CG a chance to get his feet under the table and a handle on what is going on in the town.
Geoff McBride called for ideas for the next forum.
A Member of the Public said that there were too many coffee shops and betting shops in the town and her daughter shops in Basingstoke, because of the lack of clothes shops in Andover.
Chris Gregory said that it was important to concentrate on the empty units and not what we have filling the current units. Chris Gregory said that the level of empty shops in Andover was the national average.
The Member of the Public said that it was important not to fill the vacant units with more charity or coffee shops, and that she had sat for a drink in Boswells, recently, and had endured listening to a group of young mothers sat with their children swearing about having to buy a carrier bag from WHSmith for 1p.
The following ideas were put forward:
- A suggestion box
- Swimming Pool
- Educating the public about who does what
- Change Forum Meetings to Saturdays
- Leisure Facilities
- Experts to explain how shops are filled
Geoff McBride thanked the room and closed the forum to a round of applause.
Andover & Villages attended the public meeting at the Guildhall, in order to inform the local public of what is being talked about, discussed and actioned on their behalf. It is important to note that the meeting is public and, under privacy law, it is completely legal for a photographer to take photographs of anyone in attendance.
It is unacceptable for anyone to speak to a minor, or anyone, in the way that the Andover & Villages’ 16yo trainee photographer was. And even more disappointing that a member of the public was the one to defend him, and not any of the councillors in the room, despite everyone agreeing to ‘Respect Others’.
In order for meetings to grow and involve the public, firstly councils and councillors must strive to keep anyone in attendance safe, and ensure everyone is treated with respect.