Playing God

The sad events recently revealed by Justice Keehan’s High Court ruling, despite Herefordshire Council’s desperate efforts to keep them secret, show us once again the difficulty any local authority administration has in maintaining the balance of power between council officers and councillors - and how we particularly, the people of Herefordshire, seem to suffer the consequences of that failure yet again and again, as a result.

The details of the child care cases that preceded his ruling, well documented by the national press and the Hereford Times these past few weeks, concerned council officers exceeding their authority, knowingly or through incompetence, with regard to failing to follow due process and failing to seek legal advice or to refer the cases of children in their care to the family courts for proper consideration. In other words, the council officers were once again making decisions themselves that they were neither qualified nor justified in making - playing God yet again. Justice Keehan said he had never in his long career encountered a case where a council, “so seriously and serially failed to address the needs of the children in its care, and so seriously misused, and indeed abused” its statutory powers.

Herefordshire Council in response promised the judge they had now changed their practices but spent further money trying to get the decision of Justice Keehan kept from the public.

In the meantime, who is the new head of the child social service’s department  at Herefordshire Council? Chris Baird, who was deputy at the time of the failings identified by the judge and the same person, having replaced Jo Davidson as head, who was in charge when lawyers were instructed to fight publication of the judge’s report. How can the council argue that they have a new senior management team when it appears many of the usual suspects remain in place and when the culture of closing ranks and secrecy is once again paramount in their mindset? And what was Chris Baird doing, as deputy, when Rome was burning? Should he have not done the honourable thing and stepped down as a result of his failings?

Come to that, what was Cllr Jonathan Lester, the new leader of the council, doing during that same period? As readers may or may nor know, Herefordshire Council operates a Cabinet System of governance, which means that a single councillor - drawn from the majority party ranks - has responsibility for an entire portfolio (Young People and Child’s Wellbeing in this case). This is an inadequate system, in so much as one councillor is expected to balance and counter the ‘advice’ of an entire council department and the direction long serving, pension protecting staff wish to take policies. It rarely works, as demonstrated so depressingly, by the recent failings which occurred under Cllr Lester’s supposed scrutiny.

Many have called for the new leader’s resignation but I would disagree. Although some memorable exceptions exist, such as the retired Cllr Graham Powell, it is very difficult for ordinary folk to fight the resources and numbers that a council’s civil service can throw against them. I would rather instead that all councillors came together with a common understanding of what is best for Herefordshire and passed a motion enabling Herefordshire Council to adopt a Committee System of governance, where councillor committees (of 10 or so cross party members) are able to make better decisions and counter the forcefulness of council officers more effectively. This allows councillors to take good advice from its civil servants but also to investigate matters for themselves and, most importantly, to confidently instruct council officers to consider not just the cosy wishes of lobbyists from housebuilders etc, butthe will of the electorate, as represented through them, elected councillors -  to enable the council to do things better and perhaps differently than they have before. And we desperately need to do things better, for the sake of our children and all our residents .               John Harrington Leominster Tunnel vision Herefordshire’s councillors are certainly sporting a natty line in eyewear these days.   For the last few months, Councillor Price has been showing off his ‘west is best’ blinkers and now we have Councillor Durkin in his rose tinted specs extolling the vibrancy of Hereford where most people see rows of empty shops, barmy parking charges, and the prospect of High Town disrupted once more for months on end.   Perhaps it’s time for another optician’s appointment chaps to get your eyes checked for tunnel vision, and maybe your hearing tested too, since the views of those you serve seem always to fall on deaf ears.

Ian Phillipson, Hereford

Poor plan

Julie North is to be congratulated on her concise and excellent article in Thursday, March 5’s edition.

I have read the article and also studied the application on line where “Muslim prayer” is mentioned regarding the religion concerned in this Change of use Application The handful of objections may well be due to the age of many of the residents in the immediate area and possibly to a lack of knowledge/awareness by the parents of children attending Lord Scudamore School - as access/egress to the site is very close to the school. I agree with the Civic Society: “the very poorly presented application” is a valid description.

My main concerns are: a) This religion has a habit of calling followers to prayer in a loud and disproportionate manner several times a day-from 6am until 11pm. This would ruin the quality of life of the majority of residents in Friar Street and beyond whilst interrupting children’s concentration. b) Their (worshippers) presence would inevitably increase traffic congestion - I note mention of a “funeral room”- a further flow of traffic/people.

Friar Street has long been a problem re egress to Eign Street, over many years - but it is dangerous to expect such a confined area to take further traffic.

 As the Mayor of our fair City in 1996/7, whilst not living in the area myself I feel compelled to write on such a major issue on behalf of those who may be unable or unsure how to defend themselves.

Leslie.M.H. Andrews, Eau Withington.

Forgotten past

Remember the ‘Rotherwas Ribbon’, which hit the headlines when discovered in 2007? It was a unique Stonehenge-period (c.4150 year old) structure of countless fire-scorched stones which snaked across the landscape between Dinedor and the Wye.  Thousands flocked to visit.  The importance of the site was downplayed and a road was built across it; the little-used Rotherwas link, between the A49 and the Hereford Enterprise Zone.

Fast forward to the proposed western bypass and here we are again; only now the Council has learned a lesson. Archaeology has been airbrushed from the public consultation.  It was not mentioned in the glossy brochure nor were sites marked on the exhibited constraints map.  This map has significant flaws in its lack of recognition for Hereford Community Farm, the Humphrey Repton parkland at Belmont, the Woodland Trust’s Drovers’ Wood and Pippin Orchard of heritage cider apple trees.  However, The omission of an entire category looks more like intent than carelessness.

Herefordshire Council holds ‘desk top’ archaeological data on its Historic Environment Record and some of this is available on-line.  It notes for example the medieval settlement earthworks at Warham (No. 25886), a brick kiln at Little Breinton (23046), a boundary stone at Green Lane Wood (31515) and a couple of dozen other sites which may be adversely affected by the scheme.

On the other hand, field evaluation data for the proposed bypass is not open-access; yet the techniques of geophysical prospection and LIDAR analysis are fast, accurate and inexpensive, and the results seldom commercially sensitive.  The picture they provide of ancient landscapes, including those hidden in woodland, is transforming our understanding of the past even without archaeological excavation.  So the lessons Herefordshire Council actually needs to learn, as it spend our money, are those of openness and timeliness. Information about archaeology - as with wildlife, landscape, trees, woods and watercourses - should be appropriately shared, for without it the consultation is fatally deficient.  A repeat of the Rotherwas Ribbon experience whereby knowledge of important archaeological sites is shared only when it is too late, would be unforgivable.

Jeremy Milln, Hereford

Leader listens

Last year the Hereford Times published letters questioning why Herefordshire Council’s cabinet was all-male (24.8.17) and challenging the illogical justifications for this by the then leader (21.9.17).

A few weeks ago the leader stepped down and was replaced by Jonathan Lester (HT 15.3.18), who brought in Elissa Swinglehurst as cabinet member for young people and children’s wellbeing (HT 22.3.18). The Hereford Times headline announcing his election was ‘New leader promises to listen up as council boss’. It appears he has listened and has recognised the importance of diversity in local politics. I look forward to further progress.

Joanna Liddle Ledbury

Three things

I have just received my council tax bill from Herefordshire Council for 2018/19. Personally, the three things I would like to see my contributions focussed on this year to improve our beautiful city are: 1) A solution, at least in part to the city’s unbearable traffic situation. The current gridlock is unbearably stressful and can only be diverting the much needed revenue for business and tourism away from Hereford.

2) The seagull situation in the city. How we have decided to accept a loud and aggressive form of vermin to take over our city is beyond me. We don’t tolerate groups of youths hanging around, screaming at the top of their voices and stealing our chips, so why are these creatures acceptable? We need a more hard-line approach to their removal.

3) Dog fouling. Now this is something we can all do to help ourselves. I should be able to walk around Hereford admiring its beauty instead of being head down trying not to step on a ‘dog mine’! It can be reported at:

I just hope that money is put aside to actively pursue the guilty.

David Goodman, Hereford

Rose tinted

I am amazed that once again Herefordshire Council are paying Balfour Beatty to replace perfectly serviceable walk ways along Commercial Road and Blueschool Street.

If the Council are so set on spending money they don’t have at the expense of cutting back on social care and other much needed services, perhaps they should consider softening the extortionate business rates which are unaffordable to new local businesses then they would rejuvenate the area by filling all the empty properties.

I think Cllr Durkin should remove his rose tinted glasses.

The Council are forever pleading poverty, overspending on projects and wasting tax payers’ money! We need new local businesses, not new paving slabs. When will they ever learn?

Peter Hands, Hereford

River debate

The debate between canoeists and fishing interests on the upper Wye rumbles on.  If Geoff Maynard is protecting his property rights on the upper Wye by seeking to charge canoe operators is that so wrong?  Navigation on the Wye below Hay Bridge was to facilitate carrying goods and passengers in vessels on sections of the river suitable for that commercial purpose not canoes. Fees were paid.   This is clear from the 1809 Act of Parliament which consolidated previous legislation and permitted the construction of tow paths to move the cargo. The Act did not include the Upper Wye.  The Act states even on the parts to which the Navigation applied that “nothing in this Act …shall alter, prejudice or effect the Right of any.. landowners in or to the fishery or fisheries of the said river Wye”.There have been no orders made by the relevant authority in relation to the Upper Wye with respect to navigation.  Both a river bed and the bank comprise a legal title to a fishery and property right that can be registered and enforced.

Fisherman and canoes need to find a way to work with each and not blight the unique resource. It used to be overfishing of the Shad but now it is unregulated canoeing . Fishermen are regulated and pay fees to a public authority. Canoes do not and there is no agency that can currently regulate their activity.  In these circumstances Mr Maynard may have a good point. We all tend to value what we have paid for and might lose.

Stephen Townley, Hereford

Public record

Brian Thomas is a neighbour for whom I feel respect and affection, but his letter last week made a number of points which are misleading.

Garway Parish Council has been the recognised owner of the Commons since 1960, this is in the Commons Register and a written judgement by a Commons Commissioner in 1975. This information is available in the public record. The County Land Agent has also acknowledged this in correspondence about the land over the decades since then.

The current public ownership is being defended against a bid to put the Commons into private hands after more than five decades of investment of public money in improvements and maintenance.

There is nothing inappropriate about the Parish Council going into closed session while this legal matter is ongoing. Confidentiality at this stage protects both parties in the process.

Many Garway residents were horrified when they learned that they might lose control of the Commons. The Parish Council has the continued support of much of the community, although there are differing opinions, as Brian’s letter demonstrates.

I’m not aware that huge sums of public money have been spent on a misguided legal process. The present legal team advises that the Parish Council has a very strong case. As far as I know most of the funding of legal costs has been met by substantial donations from the community. The increase of 39.6% in my Parish Precept is only 76p a week.

Ann Ashley, Garway

On the mend

On April 5, I tripped and fell in King Street and a very kind young man, who I think is named Gary, called an ambulance and stayed with me until it arrived.

The tea shop kindly brought a chair out for me and various people stopped to see if I was being taken care of and the paramedics were brilliant.

I am on the mend - bruised knee, bloodied nose and bruised ego, but thank you all so much.

Brenda Haycock, Hereford