The Pros and Cons of Virtual Local Government Meetings! (Clyst St Mary)

From a Correspondent:

The Pros and Cons of Virtual Local Government Meetings!

At this unprecedented time, when Covid-19 has halted so much of our normal everyday lives, the introduction of virtual meetings with friends, family, work colleagues and throughout our society has become a lifeline and has been hugely advantageous.  However, there is another darker side to this virtual world that we now have to encounter (even in the rural idylls of East Devon) which is neither beneficial nor worthy of any recommendation.

Zoom, Teams and Youtube have been welcomed into all our homes and have allowed the public an insight into the world of local politics and an opportunity to listen to the characters and qualities of those who have been elected to represent the people of East Devon.

Having previously viewed the farcical fiasco of East Devon’s Extraordinary Meeting in May this year, where a Tory councillor was heard swearing, during a YouTube video link, that was deemed so offensive and unpleasant that ‘the plug was pulled’ on the broadcast, before all the votes were cast to elect a new Leader – most people would think that it would be unlikely to see a repetition of inappropriate, online behaviour whilst viewing a local Parish Council meeting! Wrong!

Last night’s virtual Zoom meeting of the Bishops Clyst Parish Council at Clyst St Mary was interrupted after about one hour by ‘trolls’ shouting obscenities across this public forum, embarrassing both the councillors and public and culminating in the Parish Clerk having to rapidly close down the online meeting before it plunged into the abyss of more abusive profanities!!

Many of us have had to learn how to communicate in these virtual meetings and to acquire the knowledge of which buttons to press, whether to mute or un-mute and the skills of using a microphone to enable us to hone our expertise for live coverage!

There is, no doubt, that watching online contributors’ instinctive body language results in much greater transparency on their genuine beliefs, which is not so  discernible in face-to- face  public meetings, where we are more used to keeping our guard up! In a democracy, everyone is entitled to their opinion – but parish councillors are elected to represent the views of their community and over 200 objections from local residents have been submitted to this current application. However, the new change in the political administration at EDDC may curb the past ‘we build’ philosophy in favour of sustainable development and protection of green fields and flood plain areas!

This Extraordinary meeting (and it certainly lived up to that description!) had been mustered to discuss further developmental amendments to the vast Winslade Park, Clyst St Mary applications by Burringtons; in particular, the advice received from a planning and environmental expert with a view to submitting a response by the Parish Council to EDDC.

Furthermore, a financial viability statement from Burrington’s consultants, JLL, now states that the entire Winslade Park masterplan cannot proceed without the residential development on protected green fields. However, this conflicts with national, district and neighbourhood plans. Surely Burringtons had an awareness of the complexities of this site before they bought it?

Their proposals also incorporate an incongruous, three-storey shipping-container design for 40 apartments (replacing the supported 14 traditional dwellings shown at the Public Consultation) adjacent to the historic Manor House, which could reach a height of between 13 and 15 metres and encroach and overlook existing residents’ properties in Clyst Valley Road.

Unfortunately, because the virtual meeting had to be closed prematurely, there were no decisions made on any of these critical proposals. Consequently, another virtual parish council meeting will now have to be convened before the expiration date for parish consultees’ comments on this application.

We await this meeting with bated breath . . . . . . .