Over the last few weeks an informal grouping of protesters has formed, now known as the Quantock Land Action Group (QLAG). Many of us travelled to County Hall on Wednesday to take the opportunity to speak at the Full Council Meeting where the opposition had demanded a debate on this issue. Six of us asked a range of questions on subjects such as valuation (Has a valuation been undertaken? What is it?) protecting public access, wildlife, tranquility. I also took the opportunity to hand in a petition, orgaised by 38Degrees containing 35,000 names opposing the sale. After our questions, Cllr Huxtable read a prepared statement which re-iterated previous assurances and either did not answer our questions at all or provided glib responses. The scheduled 15 minute debate went on for more than 45 minutes with numerous points of order raised. Most of these were dismissed rather than dealt with satisfactorily, in my view. In fact our Parish Council meetings are better chaired than this Full Somerset County Council meeting!
When the opposition’s motion to abandon the sale of Quantock land was put to a vote, it was tight with 28 (Conservatives) voting to proceed with the sale and 22 LibDems opposing. However, what became clear is that even if 49 of the 50 Councillors present had voted against the sale, it would have made no difference unless Cllr Huxtable had changed his mind. The decision rests entirely with him and even the whole Council cannot over-rule him – hardly democratic.
Towards the end of the debate, the Leader of the Council, Ken Maddock, in an unusual concilliatory gesture accepted that there was strong feeling on the issue and offered to meet protesters to hear their concerns. This meeting took place yesterday (Thursday 16th Feb) and notes are currently being drawn up.
While we were unable to change the Council/Huxtable’s minds on Wednesday, the strength of opposition was clear. Over 45,000 names are now attached to petitions objecting to the sale, hundreds of letters have been written. The Council is clearly rattled, as witnessed by the absence of Cllr Maddock’s usual steamrollering belligerence. Even Councillor Ellis (Conservative) accused his own administration of being ‘sloppy in detail and procedure’ and promptly abstained from the vote. Notable was local Quantock Councillor John Wilkins who, despite previous assurances that he was against the sale, voted with his party to proceed with it. Party before electorate, as always….
Together we can face them down on this. By his own admission, Cllr Huxtable says that he does not know whether selling this land will actually save the Council any money. It is not worth a lot. Ultimately, we need to make the Council see that alienating a vast number of voters at the forthcoming elections in return for such little financial return is bad politics. This is how we will win out.
KEEP UP THE PRESSURE.