Meeting curtailed midway through Woodbridge neighbourhood plan debate

The Shire Hall in Woodbridge

The Shire Hall in Woodbridge - Credit: Archant

A increasingly heated public meeting was eventually aborted by the mayor of a Suffolk town following an exchange with a disgruntled group of volunteers.

Tensions were evident at Woodbridge Shire Hall as members of the neighbourhood planning group accused the town council of putting obstacles in their way.

The group was one of many formed under the government’s localism agenda to help devise a 15-year plan for development, growth, employment and leisure in the community.

But members blamed Woodbridge Town Council for “stalling the process” during a meeting which the mayor later brought to a premature halt, provoking louder rumblings from the gathered public, including calls of “pathetic” and “you call this democracy?”.

Alina Gwizdala, who spoke initially on behalf of the group, complained that it had taken 10 months to get a website up and running for the neighbourhood plan, and was only now taken care of thanks to councillor, Eamonn O’Nolan.

She said the group had drawn up draft budget proposals during a November meeting of the steering group, which was then deemed unofficial by the town council because only two members attended.

She said a request for authorisation to buy software had also been “disregarded”, and that an application for funding from the network delivering the government’s neighbourhood planning support programme, Locality, had yet to be made.

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“We had been assured that the town council had put in an application for funding, but this was not true,” she said.

“Here we are, volunteers trying to make this work. Quite frankly, Woodbridge Town Council is not helping by stalling the process.”

Woodbridge mayor, Josh Sayles said the town clerk had made three attempts to apply for funding before transferring responsibility for the task to him, and that November’s steering group meeting was deemed unofficial because not enough members attended to make it legally quorate.

“There is nothing stopping volunteers meeting, but if you want to make recommendations, you have to do it by the book,” he said.

“This town council does not want to stand in the way of the neighbourhood plan. Not everyone is wedded to it, but some of us are, and the last thing we want to do is put obstacles in the way.”

Councillor Kay Yule said the neighbourhood planning team was “quite right” to assert that an application for funding had not been officially lodged, despite three attempts being made.

When the councillor’s efforts to reenter the discussion were turned down by the mayor, members of the public amplified their discontent, leading Mr Sayles to call the meeting off altogether.

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