I am very concerned that as we approach the 5th of March deadline for the submission of responses to Highways England on the A303 Public Consultation that:
1. The Parish Council has not communicated “in an open and reasoned way” to all village residents what its proposed response will be to the Highways England A303 public consultation document.
2. The Parish Council has yet to explain how it plans to reflect and communicate the view of a majority of village residents favouring one or other of the proposed routes.
3. If there has been any doubt about what the majority view of the village is on the scheme, there appears to have been little or no effort to ascertain this via a blind poll, so that this can then be communicated to Highways England/Wiltshire Council.
Clearly the issue of a Winterbourne Stoke bypass is a highly divisive and emotive one. But, however imperfect the choices are, and however flawed the entire consultation process has been, the decision about which of the bypass routes is preferable still has to be made. Unfortunately, the Highways England questionnaire only provides 3 options for the Winterbourne Stoke bypass: north, south or no preference.
I am therefore extremely concerned that there appears to be a very real possibility that, because there is not a 100% majority view in the village in favour of either route, that on the single most important issue facing Winterbourne Stoke over the last 50 years, the Parish Council will not express a clear preference about which of the two bypass routes for Winterbourne Stoke is preferable.
In my view all local town and parish councils in the area that are impacted by the A303 improvement scheme have a responsibility not only to represent the interests of the whole community, but also to submit their response to the Highways England questionnaire by the 5th March and express a clear preference for one of the 2 bypass options, even if neither route is perfect, even if both require significant mitigation and even if insufficient data has been provided by Highways England to make a more informed choice. To sit on the fence and claim that the lack of unanimity in the village about which route is preferable warrants ticking the “no preference” box in the Highways England questionnaire, is in my view a dereliction of the primary responsibility of the Parish Council, which is to not only represent the interests of the whole community, but also, where opinion in the parish is divided, “make difficult decisions, in an open and reasoned way”. The key word is “decision”, not sitting on the fence and thereby failing to democratically reflect the majority view on the issue because it would be divisive.
The responsibilities of a Parish Council.
The job of your council is to represent the interests of the whole community. Understanding the needs of different groups in the community (such as young and elderly people) is an important part of your role as councillor. Occasionally there will be a conflict of interest requiring sensitive judgement; for example, dog owners, parents of young children and walkers might disagree about use of the village green. Making difficult decisions, in an open and reasoned way, is something that local councils need to do well. (The Good Councillor’s Guide 4th Edition)