Chairman storms out of meeting after losing democratic vote about democracy

Ricky Bower
Ricky Bower

A council committee chairman stormed out of a meeting last night after losing a democractic vote – on a point of democracy (Tuesday, July 12).

Arun District Councillor Ricky Bower was less than two hours into his chairmanship of the Joint Eastern Arun Area Committee, having been appointed for the year ahead.

It is a travesty of democracy

Councillor Dudley Wensley

But a disagreement over Arun’s lack of representatives on a sub group which discusses highways issues led to Mr Bower and fellow Arun councillor Terry Chapman leaving the cross-council meeting.

The split could threaten the future of the cross-council committee, with Arun vowing to withdraw.

As he left, Mr Bower said: “What you have just seen with that vote is you have destroyed the multi-tier working that has existed across the whole of the Arun district with that treatment of Arun District Council representatives.

“I’m appalled at your attitude towards the democratic representation that should be there from the district council.”

The committee, known as JEAAC, comprises town, parish, district and county councillors, meeting as one to discuss issues affecting the district.

The highways and transport sub group considers matters prior to JEAAC but has no decision-making powers, feeding back recommendations to the committee for rulings.

The sub group has town, parish and county council members, with Arun only represented through councillors who are members of multiple authorities.

The committee was recommended to continue this arrangement – but Arun deputy leader Dudley Wensley argued there should be direct district representatives.

He said: “There are 16 parish and six county councillors and I don’t have a problem with that. There should be representation from the district council as well as it is called democracy. It is a travesty of democracy.”

The committee voted to keep the arrangement by a majority of 10 to four, with Arun’s councillors the only ones against.

Mr Bower and Mr Chapman left, to shouts of ‘shambles’ and ‘you should be ashamed of yourselves’ from the public gallery.

Angmering and Findon county councillor Deborah Urquhart said: “A lot of residents came here to talk about the traffic calming, not us navel-gazing.”

Mr Wensley and Arun colleague Robert Wheal remained at the meeting after the vote.

Littlehampton town councillor Derrick Chester said the disagreement was not ‘a good look for the public because it brings us into disrepute’.

“Turf wars by different tiers of local government is an argument for a unitary authority.”

Mr Wensley stressed Arun had ‘not withdrawn’ from the committee.

Speaking after the meeting, Arun leader Gill Brown said she was unhappy with the vote.

She said: “I am very disappointed with the way that the vote went. We had made it clear that Arun would not continue to be a part of the area committee if we didn’t get a fair representation on the highways and transport sub group.

“On the western side (Joint Western Arun Area Committee) the system has worked well for some years with Arun having two representatives on the sub group. We should be working together as highway decisions impact heavily on our responsibility as the planning and housing authority and I’m disappointed that the county councillors on JEAAC don’t agree.”

‘I was fulfilling Arun’s policy’, says chairman

The newly-appointed chairman of the Joint Eastern Arun Area Committee left last night’s meeting because Arun vowed to leave the organisation if the vote went against it.

Councillor Ricky Bower defended his dramatic decision, following a vote he believed was a ‘political ploy’.

“I was fulfilling Arun’s policy, which was if we were not getting fair representation on the sub group in the same manner as we were on the Joint Western Arun Area Committee (JEAAC) then we would be withdrawing from the committee.

“From what I understand (JEAAC) won’t exist in future because Arun is withdrawing.”

Mr Bower said Arun would find an alternative way of engaging with town and parish councils if it did not take part in JEAAC.