Apologies from two councillors for ‘coming across as aggressive’ and accusing officers of manipulating data
Two councillors have issued apologies after two separate incidents during a Planning Committee meeting last night.
Planning committee members had been discussing plans from Wrexham Council to convert the former Borras Park Infants school building into a Welsh-medium school.
Concerns had been raised by several councillors throughout the meeting over existing traffic and parking issues in the area, which some felt could be exacerbated if the plans were approved.
However the debate saw two members of the council’s coalition administration warned over their conduct toward both planning and highways officer’s involved in the planning report.
The video below has clips of the speeches by councillors:
Member of the Wrexham Independent Group, Cllr Bill Baldwin opened his comments stating his concerns about the Planning, and the Highways Department of Wrexham Council supporting the plans before them.
Cllr Baldwin asked if the highways officer had attended the site in question to assess the traffic safety issues, and also cited a 450 page supporting document that he said did not mention any parking or traffic issues.
Officers were accused of “once again to picking and choosing which highway comments they put in the committee report”, adding it was ‘strange’ that the Highways Officer supported the application.
Cllr Baldwin continued onto ask “why is the planning report selective in what it is allowing the public and committee to see?” – later adding that he felt a figure before councillors had been “manipulated downwards” and likened the planned school as being Hogwarts due to the ‘wizardry and magic going on’ with regards to the parking and traffic figures.
He added: “If a new school can actually reduce existing parking problems, maybe we’ll see the pupils playing Quidditch above the school playing fields.
“Perhaps in secret discussions with the highways officer the transport consultants have agreed to build platform nine and three quarters on Borras Park road?”
The legal officer said: “I appreciate the member’s concerns, but, I’m quoting now from the code of conduct paragraph 6.1.A “you must not conduct yourself any manner, which could reasonably be regarded as being your office or authority into disrepute”.
“It would be my submission that some of the language used by Cllr Baldwin does not accord with that paragraph.
“I would advise the member and any member on the whole such thoughts and sentiments to refrain from doing so in such a manner.”
Planning officer David Williams also rejected suggestions of misleading councillors, stating: “I think the first thing to point out is in relation to the accuracy of the report and the information contained in the report.
“I would maintain that everything in the report is quite clearly 100% accurate.
“There would be no reason for me to mislead members in any in any sense.”
He added: “I don’t think there is anywhere within the report where I’ve actually said there will be an improvement in the overall traffic conditions associated with this development.
“In fact, to the contrary, I have actually acknowledged the fact that there will be an increase in traffic.
“So I think it’s, it’s unfair to criticise the Officer on that basis. I should also point out we’ve not manipulated, any response received from a statutory consultee.
“If you look at page 46, under the Highways response, it’s virtually verbatim in terms of the response, there’s no change to any of the wording within that response.”
Conservative councillor Beverley Parry-Jones spoke on traffic issues, and said it was “quite unacceptable” that the road was not ‘viewed’ and data gathered.
Cllr Parry-Jones did acknowledge that we are ‘in the middle of the pandemic’, but appeared keen to get such data despite schools being all but closed and normal traffic patterns massively reduced.
The councillor told the officer, who she thought worked directly for Wrexham Council: “I would suggest that the highways officer by not going out and looking at the road isn’t or hasn’t done her job. I would like to see her going out and doing it.”
Chairman of the committee Cllr Mike Morris called out Cllr Parry-Jones stating: “I think that tone is unacceptable, quite frankly.
“This is getting quite ridiculous now the way members are speaking to officers, whether they’re employed by the authority or not, it’s not on. I mean, how would you like to people speaking to you like that? We don’t do it to each other.”
The highways officer in question then clarified she was not employed directly by Wrexham Council, and that she would in a perfect world be out and about as normal, however due to the global pandemic her employer does not allow them to travel.
Cllr Parry-Jones offered no apology, but said she ‘took on board’ the Officer’s explanation and said in hindsight that information should have been provided earlier in the meeting.
Later, Cllr Gwenfair Jones invited an on screen apology from Cllr Parry-Jones for ‘the way she spoke’ and stated ‘it went too far’.
Cllr Parry-Jones replied: “If you think an apology is warranted I’m more than happy to apologise”, bizarrely adding that it was clarified that the officer was a consultant, “I thought that she was employed by the Council, not a consultant.”
Cllr Parry-Jones added: “I do apologise. I do get passionate, sometimes my passions overtake my emotions. I do apologise.
“I didn’t mean to come over as being aggressive to you.”
Later the legal officer again spoke: “I just wanted to touch base on some of the things that have occurred during this particular debate, from a legal adviser perspective, and just again to remind every member of their obligations and the code of conduct.
“I’m quoting from again, paragraph 4 B, you must show respect and consideration for others, I appreciate it is an emotive discussion, but I think going forward, that this should be more at the forefront of members minds when discussing matters.”
Earlier today at a media brief we pointed out to Leader of the Council Mark Pritchard that both councillors make up the ruling administration on the local authority, and asked if he felt councillors needed a reminder on their conduct, and also asked what the process was for Wrexham Council – and group leaders, to deal with what occurred the night before.
Cllr Pritchard said: “I am going to put things into perspective here.
“I think we have excellent councillors, I think 99% of them are well behaved and they show everybody the utmost respect that every individual, member of the public, officers deserve.
“Unfortunately, on occasions, some elected members misbehave, and say inappropriate things.
“I think it is important that the group leaders speak to the individuals. On this occasion, and I’m not passing the buck, the members are not in my group.”
Cllr Pritchard then passed the question to Cllr David A Bithell, who has Cllr Baldwin in his group (Cllr Parry-Jones is in the Conservative grouping), and invited his comments.
Cllr Bithell said he had not seen the entire of the planning meeting, but had seen the ‘tail end’, stating: “If I am honest I think, and I’m not making excuses for anybody, because I haven’t actually seen all of the footage. But what I would say is I don’t think virtual meetings helps elected members.”
“I think some members are really, really frustrated because they can’t come into the Guildhall. That’s no excuse for any behaviour.
“But the reality is, I think people are passionate about their communities, they are passionate about some of the subjects. I think it’s difficult trying to get a message across on a on a screen rather than face to face.”
“I’m not making excuses, because as group leader, I take it very seriously if people have misbehaved, and they’ve said anything inappropriate, then clearly it is not right.
“We do take action as group leaders, and we’ve got a local resolution policy as as group leaders, and we do speak to our group and remind them. I think generally in Wrexham, we’ve been quite good.
“You know, but unfortunately passions and people’s views do overspill at times.”
We pointed out that Cllr Baldwin’s comments were accusing officers of manipulating information, rather than an ‘overspill of passion’.
Cllr Bithell replied: “The reality is until I see it it’s hard to for me to comment. Bill won’t be the first or the last overspilling in passion. Clearly as group leader we take our responsibilities seriously.
“Bill did send a message last night on the zoom chat to say that he apologised if he upset anybody. So I know he did that during the meeting yesterday.”
Council Leader Pritchard added: “Hopefully the group leaders will deal with the situations, and on this occasion the two group leaders will deal with it.
“What I would say is if the group leaders don’t deal with it, when then we have to deal with it, because you can’t ignore it.
“I do understand what David said, I think there’s a difference between passion, and I would say, being rude to individuals. I think that’s the line really.
“It is unacceptable, we can’t tolerate it, and it’s got to stop.”
Last night Cllr Parry-Jones sent us a statement, copied in full below:
During Planning Committee this evening I made a number of comments which I understand may have caused offence to the Council’s Highways Consultant. As I did during the meeting I would like to apologise once again for any offence my remarks may have caused.
The point that I was trying to make was that lockdown restrictions do allow you to travel for work purposes and as the Consultant stated during the meeting in response to my remarks that it is her Company’s policy not to allow staff to attend site meetings. In this particular case I felt it was an important for highways officers to visit the site and see the issues first hand.
Although Cllr Bithell had not seen the meeting video, he had seen a copy of what appears to be a photograph of the inter-Zoom chat during the meeting, that was apparently from Cllr Baldwin apologising for any upset caused:
Such messaging is not made public on the council’s web stream.
Wrexham.com has previously requested to join the Zoom meetings direct, specifically so we can see the wider gallery view of all members much like being in the Guildhall chamber in normal times and where we have previously been passed notes during meetings themselves, however that request was rejected by Wrexham Council.
Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email News@Wrexham.com