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Hertfordshire residents “to be denied a say” on Highway issues

July 2, 2012 12:00 AM
By Nik Alatortsev - Herts Lib Dems

The Lib Dem Opposition Group on Herts County Council has slammed the Conservative-controlled Council's plans to abolish the regular Highway panel meetings as "an erosion of local people's say on a key issue - the way their roads are maintained".

Under plans put forward by the Conservatives, which will be considered by the County Council's Highways and Transport meeting on July 3rd, the current Highways Joint Member Panels system is set to be scrapped. These Panels meet regularly and consist of local County Councillors and representatives of the Borough or District Council for each of Hertfordshire's ten Councils areas. Local councillors discuss and decide highways issues and are able to receive petitions from local residents.

"The Conservatives are planning to remove all scrutiny, by either local people or locally-elected representatives, when it comes to Highway decisions," said Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst, the Lib Dem Group Leader and Highways spokesperson. "No longer will residents be able to come to meetings and present petitions on highways matters to local councillors. They will not hear how we want to spend their money. While the Conservatives claim to be all in favour of localism, when it comes to local accountability they want to deny local people a say".

Under the current system, the Highway Joint Member Panels allow councillors to decide on Traffic Regulation Orders and how Section 106 (developers' money) is spent. Panel meetings are currently open to the public and to the press. In addition, the Panels enable local councillors to go through upcoming highways works and to suggest projects for the future. They also provide an opportunity to question officers about how money is being spent and suggest amendments to schemes.

Provided that the County Council's Cabinet approves the plans on July19th, the Panels will be replaced by individual briefings and meetings between each county councillor and Council officers responsible for highways. There will be only two briefing meetings a year for all councillors - after decisions are taken - and they will be chaired by someone hand-picked by the Cabinet member responsible for Highways.

"Clearly, the Conservatives at County Hall neither want to be inclusive nor want their officers to be questioned in public in the future," continued Cllr Giles-Medhurst. "This is turning the clock back to private and secret meetings behind closed doors that the press and public are excluded from, and is massive erosion of local people's say on a key issue - the way their roads are maintained."

"It all smacks of an elected dictatorship. The Conservatives' failures on highways have been exposed time and time again, and now they are seeking to try and bury their massive failures by scrapping these public panels. The Liberal Democrats will, of course, oppose these plans, but I fear that the Conservative Cabinet will simply nod it through!" concluded Cllr Giles-Medhurst.