Mak Hubbard: The Parish Council for the City Of Hereford, Needs A New Powerful Voice
PUBLISHED: 15:42 26 November 2010 | UPDATED: 15:33 20 February 2013
Councillor Mark Hubbard argues that the parish council for the City of Hereford, the second largest parish in England, needs a powerful new voice.
In May 2007 I made a rash decision to stand for election to Herefordshire Council and Hereford City Council. At the time a friend asked me, "Why on earth would you do that to yourself?" Eighteen months down the line I am still grappling with the answer to that question. I do remember how incensed I felt about a series of edicts and lacklustre projects that came from Herefordshire Council which I thought were actually damaging the city I love.
Who, in their right minds, would give Asda permission to build a huge superstore on the busiest roundabout in the city? The council officers advised them not to, but Herefordshire councillors knew better. The four-hour traffic jams coming into the south of the city became legendary that summer and hundreds of shoppers turned their cars around and headed off elsewhere. Very few of them have returned and the downturn in our city centre became palpable. The long-term loss of trade probably dwarfs the 2 million donation by Asda to the flood defences, which many used to justify their support.
Forcing the closure of Widemarsh Street to traffic may have improved things for pedestrians, but it has meant a drop in visitor numbers to the Cathedral because coach drivers cannot access their drop-off points. Customers to the Buttermarket can no longer catch a bus or taxi outside; is this why Peacocks have left? Has no-one heard of living streets? This is a modern approach to street design where buses, people, cyclists and cars all share the same surface safely, whilst maintaining a vibrant shopping environment. Why does Hereford always have to wait for new ideas to become old ones before we benefit from them?
And the Edgar Street Grid development is causing such levels of disquiet that I am stopped on a daily basis by concerned citizens who cannot understand why it is going ahead. Yet the Cabinet of Herefordshire Council are happy to vote through the ESG planning documents after a consultation that has only managed to get 38 responses (of which only a third were in favour) out of a city of over 60,000 inhabitants.
Why is it that Hereford City always seems to come out the loser? Having spent some time "on the inside" I am beginning to understand.
Herefordshire Council was created in 1998 as a unitary authority. At the same time Hereford City Council was abolished and became the Charter Trustees, a purely ceremonial organisation. How the politicians of the day could have thought this was a good idea, I haven't a clue. Any voice the city used to have disappeared overnight. Since then, despite having a third of the county's population, representation on important decision making bodies by people who actually live in the city has dwindled. Only one out of nine Cabinet members actually lives in the city. For the ESG Board the proportion is even lower - one out of thirteen. It is hardly surprising they rarely get it right for city dwellers.
So how do we improve this dreadful state of affairs?
In 2002, having realised the mistake, the parish council for the City of Hereford was recreated and, being the second largest parish in England, one would have thought it could have had real influence. Sadly this was not the case. For the next five years all the members did was bemoan their loss of status and complain they didn't have the power to do anything. They sniped and criticised Herefordshire Council and were thoroughly unconstructive, bringing the politics of the county into the business of the town hall.
I believe that the "double-hatted" councillor is the reason for this dreadful state of affairs. Out of eighteen parish councillors only two do not also sit on Herefordshire Council. I too am double-hatted: this was my mistake, which I intend to rectify.
Since the 2007 elections there has been a fundamental change in the attitude of the parish. It has finally realised it needs to change its approach, but until we get more people who are prepared to stand as parish councillors alone, this will not happen. The work of a parish councillor need not be too burdensome - think Vicar of Dibley rather than corridors of power.
So when the 2011 elections come along, remember not to vote for the same person for both councils. Better still, think about standing for the parish yourself, because your city really does need you!