Town poll ‘a farce’
Former mayor of Honiton says second vote ‘a waste of money’
There will be a second poll in Honiton over the town council’s �2million plan to build a community centre - if East Devon’s returning officer rubber stamps a motion supported by 23 electors at a public meeting.
Just 10 Honiton residents, or a third of those present, were required to carry the motion, proposed by residents’ association chairman Ken Sherman and five other electors.
They want the public to have their say over whether or not the council should proceed any further with the Dowell Street project.
However, 68 staunch community centre supporters - many wanting to see theatre productions staged in the proposed centre - voted against a town poll.
There was standing room only in the council chamber, with every seat taken, as people with opposing views packed into the room during unseasonably warm weather last Thursday night.
Councillors gave up their seats to accommodate the public - even the mayor’s wooden carved chair was eventually snapped up by an elector.
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The meeting was opened by the mayor, Councillor Vernon Whitlock, who said: “There is only one item on the agenda - the question of do we or do we not hold a town poll.”
Town clerk Lyn Hargood, as the parish’s legal officer, explained the legalities of the town poll process and stressed: “This is a public meeting, not a council meeting, which has been called by electors. Councillors are here as individuals.”
She went on to outline procedural rules, stipulated by the Government, and said a town poll is a form of public consultation and not a referendum.
The result of a town poll is not legally binding.
The six electors who called for the meeting were invited to speak first, but the majority were not present.
Pensioner Ray Griffin was first to speak. He said: “I live in Dowell Street and, at the moment, we get so much traffic and congestion.
“We get noise and fumes pollution and vibration to houses.
“You have got to sort the traffic situation out first.”
He urged members of all local authorities to visit Dowell Street and witness for themselves what residents have to put up with.
Ken Sherman referred to traffic flow in Honiton’s one-way system, which includes Dowell Street, and said: “We have already got a problem for buses and lorries getting to the school and market.
“The centre is going to make it impossible for residents to get in and out of their homes.”
Mr Sherman drew attention to Dunning Court, a council-owned flats development in Dowell Street, and added: “Anything that increases pollution is going to have a detrimental effect on residents’ quality of life.”
He urged the council to fund-raise and to find a more “central and more accessible” site for the centre.
l The Matron of Honiton Community Hospital, Micky Dicks, said she fears the proposed community centre is not big enough. The town could out-grow it quite quickly, she said.
“I think phase two should be pencilled in by the architects,” Mrs Dicks told the meeting.
“The proposed costings for this are really, really cheap, probably because of the site being offered by East Devon District Council.
“I think fund-raising will bring people together.”
She offered “public thanks” to the people who, for 28 years, have fought to bring the centre plan to fruition.
“Thank goodness they haven’t given up,” she said.
Mrs Dicks also suggested the teenage pregnancy rate could be kept down by the development of a community centre, which, she said, would give young people somewhere to go and reduce the risk of teenagers using drink and drugs.
Former three times mayor of Honiton Sally Casson said: “This is a last ditch attempt.
“Please, I would ask everybody to stick with the council.”
Mrs Casson described the previous poll as “a farce” and said: “The Mackarness Hall was not fit for purpose even when I was a child.
“I urge everybody, we don’t need another poll.
“It’s just a waste of money.”
Local artist Sally Boom said: “I don’t mind paying extra money for the facilities.
“We need this amenity.
“We must put our hands in our pockets.
“We will willingly bear the cost, if we get the amenities that are so important to us all.”
Brian Steele was drowned out by applause when he attempted to speak against the centre.