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A group of councillors from Bourton Parish Council has resigned en bloc following a local referendum over where to site the village hall, an issue which has split the community.

The seven councillors who have quit described the referendum as a ‘travesty’ and said they were concerned that its organisers would ‘continue to frustrate and undermine the future working of the Parish Council’.

In a joint statement the councillors said: ‘It is therefore with regret that we have stepped down from the Parish Council. We believe this is the only way of making clear our refusal to work with individuals who have undermined the proper working of representative democracy, who have acted with scant regard to basic good faith and who ignore the best interests and well-being of our community.’

The parish council and the village hall trustees favour the Jubilee Field site at Chaffeymoor Farm for the village’s new hall.

But a rival group called Democratic Site Selection (DSS) prefer a site at Sandways.

Both sites have been given planning permission but only one of the projects can go ahead. The scheme is backed by lottery money.

Earlier this month the DSS group organised their own village referendum, with 349 out of the 440 who voted opting for the Sandways site.

However, the councillors who have now resigned say that they have ‘serious concerns’ about that vote. ‘Referendums should be run to give an equal voice to both sides, by asking a fair question in a fair way and with the right controls and procedures to make sure it is fairly conducted. By those standards, this “referendum” was a travesty,’ they said in their statement.

The councillors said the poll was not managed by an independent body and was launched with no notice, giving little opportunity for both sides to present information to give voters a fair choice, and that it was ‘wide open to fraud’.

The councillors said that the campaign run by the referendum organisers contained ‘inflammatory material, half-truths and innuendo directed at individuals’. They continued: ‘We found it crass, unpleasant and biased and designed to engineer the response the organisers wanted by appealing to emotions rather than considered judgement.’

The outgoing councillors also said residents are ‘angry and upset’ at what seemed to have been a ‘wholesale invasion of people’s data privacy through use of the full Electoral Roll or data from it’.

They stated: ‘Our understanding is that using such information for a private poll is not permitted and individuals should complain to Dorset Council and the Information Commissioners Office.’

The statement, which is reproduced in full below, is signed by ‘former Bourton Parish Councillors’
Mike Withers, past Chair Iain McVie, past deputy Chair Peter Williams, Margaret Martin, Mike Chapman and Allan Miller.

The resignation of seven of the parish council’s councillors leaves just two members left. As a parish council needs five councillors, and three in a meeting to make it quorate, this means the council will have to be administered by Dorset Council until free elections or new councillors are co-opted.

Full statement:

From the democratically elected former Bourton Parish Councillors

We have set out below a reasoned account of our approach to the selection of a location for a new village hall and why we put little faith in the recent polling exercise carried out in the village:
– Bourton is growing. We need a hall to serve this community for the next 50-100 years.
– The new hall must be commercially viable to avoid being a financial burden on the village. The Jubilee Field site presents the more attractive location for this purpose and would generate less in-village traffic.
– Siting the new hall on the Jubilee Field gives the village an opportunity to create a social hub for the village by closely locating the Hall with the school and church.
– The Jubilee Field site offers amenity land as a good venue for village events and recreational facilities. It is available without significant remedial works and is unlikely to incur substantial costs in its continuing care and maintenance.
– A hall and small enabling development on the Jubilee Field impacts fewer properties.
– In the dark, in poor weather and through the winter most people drive to the existing hall and that the argument for a more central location does not overcome concerns about financial sustainability nor trump the benefits and opportunities at the Jubilee Field site.

As Parish Councillors, we all went to the consultative gatherings, workshops and debate. We added our own private discussions and researches across the community. We were aware that we needed to make the best choice, not just a popular one. When we came to make the decision, there was a clear majority in favour of the Jubilee Field site.
We have serious concerns about the recent privately organised “referendum”. Referendums should be run to give an equal voice to both sides, by asking a fair question in a fair way and with the right controls and procedures to make sure it is fairly conducted. By those standards, this “referendum” was a travesty:
– it was run by people seeking a particular outcome. It was not managed by an independent body and was launched with no notice, giving little opportunity for both sides to present information to give voters a fair choice.
– The important and influential claim that Dorset Councillors Pothecary and Ridout had, ‘…agreed to oversee the process…’ was wholly untrue, as confirmed by these Councillors at the Extraordinary Meeting of the Parish Council on 1st August.
– Although the count itself was conducted properly, there was no guarantee of the principle of “one person, one vote” in the votes counted because there were no numerical controls on the voting form or envelope, leaving the process wide open to fraud.
– The campaign mounted by the referendum organisers through their website contained inflammatory material, half-truths and innuendo directed at individuals. We found it crass, unpleasant and biased and designed to engineer the response the organisers wanted by appealing to emotions rather than considered judgement.
– There are many residents who are angry and upset that there seems to have been a wholesale invasion of people’s data privacy through use of the full Electoral Roll or data from it. Our understanding is that using such information for a private poll is not permitted and individuals should complain to Dorset Council and the Information Commissioners Office.

From their behaviour and public statements, there is an implied threat that the organisers would have continues to frustrate and undermine the future working of the Parish Council. We find this unacceptable. It is therefore with regret that we have stepped down from the Parish Council. We believe this is the only way of making clear our refusal to work with individuals who have undermined the proper working of representative democracy, who have acted with scant regard to basic good faith and who ignore the best interests and well-being of our community.
Signed by former Bourton Parish Councillors:
Mike Withers, past Chair Iain McVie, past deputy Chair
Peter Williams Margaret Martin
Mike Chapman Allan Miller

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1 Comment

  1. Brok
    15 January 2022 at 10:37 am — Reply

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the Parish Councillors on both sides of this irrelevant argument channelled their energy into forcing the Dorset Council to reduce the village’s dangerous 40 mph speed limit – which ignores government guidelines and creates a hazard along the whole length of the village?
    Now, THAT would be useful.

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