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Great Cornard Parish Council issues formal complaint, after Babergh District Council leader fails to attend meeting over controversial parking charges proposal

Parish councillors have voiced outrage about the suggestion that their meetings could be unsafe or violent, after formally complaining about the district council’s leadership.

Great Cornard Parish Council issued a formal letter of complaint this week, over the failure of representatives from Babergh District Council to attend a meeting on Friday, despite a previous agreement to do so.

The extraordinary meeting at the Stevenson Centre had been called to discuss the controversial proposals to introduce new parking charges at district council-owned car parks in Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham.

The decision to abandon free parking has created a split in opinion across the district
The decision to abandon free parking has created a split in opinion across the district

The contentious new tariffs had been approved by Babergh’s cabinet last month – only for the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee to call the decision in, stating it had not been reached via the correct procedures.

As part of this call-in, it was agreed that Babergh officers would attend a meeting of Great Cornard Parish Council, as a key stakeholder, before the parking charge plans are re-considered by cabinet members.

The parish council, which says it was not consulted prior to the cabinet’s previous decision, indicated that Babergh’s acting leader, John Ward, and director of operations Mark Emms had agreed to attend its meeting on Friday evening.

Cllr John Ward, acting leader of Babergh District Council. Picture: Submitted
Cllr John Ward, acting leader of Babergh District Council. Picture: Submitted

However, in a letter sent to Babergh’s chief executive Arthur Charvonia on Tuesday – seen by SuffolkNews – the parish council claims that the district representatives had withdrawn just hours before the meeting.

According to the letter, Cllr Ward had told the council he was not comfortable with the meeting being held in public because it ‘could potentially get violent’ and ‘put his officer in danger’.

Along with this latest grievance, Great Cornard Parish Council also renewed its formal complaint from last month, for what it claims was a failure of Babergh leaders to properly consult it on the proposed new parking charges.

Emma Skuce, Great Cornard’s council manager, said members also wanted assurances that no future decision on the parking tariff plans would be made until the promised consultation had occurred.

In the letter of complaint, Miss Skuce stated it was made clear that the meeting on Friday, which Babergh leader John Ward was due to appear at, would be a parish council meeting, which the public were entitled to attend.

She further questioned why the outcome of a public consultation should be discussed in private.

“When the meeting went ahead in the absence of Cllr Ward and his colleagues, members of Great Cornard Parish Council expressed outrage at his mis-characterisation of their meetings,” wrote Miss Skuce.

“Several members have nearly 40 years’ council experience, without being able to recall any violence which has taken place at any of them.

“They considered that Cllr Ward had added to the injury of not consulting with them properly over the introduction of parking charges – the insult of being offensive about their ability to run properly convened meetings.

“They considered it grossly offensive to Great Cornard Parish Council to suggest he or Babergh officers wouldn’t be safe, that the meeting could get violent, or that the parish council was not transparent about the meeting.”

The parish council also stated that it would be happy to rearrange a meeting with the Babergh leader and director of operations – but added that this would be open to the public to attend, as before.

Resident Kirsty White, who attended as a member of public, said she was shocked that ‘such a sweeping comment’ had been made about the Cornard community.

“I’m a community nurse, so I went along to be a voice for the elderly and vulnerable,” she told SuffolkNews. “To say we could be violent was really offensive and so disrespectful.”

In response, Cllr Ward said: “As part of our consultation with communities on our revised parking tariffs, we engaged directly with Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham as the places where our car parks are present and we welcomed correspondence from other parishes.

“Following representations from Great Cornard Parish Council and its district councillor, our overview and scrutiny committee requested that officers meet with the parish council to discuss concerns they have and ideas for mitigating the impact of the revised tariffs on residents.

“It was requested that I attend as well, which I was happy to do. The parish council followed this up with an agenda for an extraordinary meeting.

“I didn’t really pay too much attention to the implications of this, as it didn’t occur to me that they wanted a formal parish council meeting – the kind of discussion we have had with others isn’t really appropriate for a formal meeting.

“That was my mistake, but if they had the courtesy to ask in advance if this would be acceptable, we could have discussed it rationally.”