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New format for Bishop’s Stortford’s annual town meeting so residents can have their say

A new, more informal format is to be introduced for Bishop’s Stortford’s annual town meeting – and “troublemakers” will be allowed to sit together.

Previously the meeting each March at South Mill Arts has featured town councillors sitting in a row, facing an audience of electors.

Usually, the mayor and the chairs of the town council’s committees present an often lengthy report of their activities over the past 12 months before they respond to questions tabled in advance by residents.

South Mill Arts
South Mill Arts

However, although annual town meetings must be organised by the council, they are not meetings of the authority.

Chief executive Huw Jones told members that the statutory meetings should primarily be an opportunity for electors to have their say on anything they considered important – and for councillors to listen.

He said only the mayor had an official role, chairing the meeting, while other councillors entered as electors.

Liberal Democrat councillors Richard Townsend, the mayor, and Mione Goldspink
Liberal Democrat councillors Richard Townsend, the mayor, and Mione Goldspink

He suggested that the “historic arrangements” might be changed so that all attendees sat at round tables and groups, other than the council, should have the chance to talk about their activities during the year. In time, he said, other venues could be considered, with the meetings rotating around the town’s community centres.

Cllr Sarah Copley (Lib Dem, Silverleys), the deputy mayor, said she wanted the meetings to be about “positive dialogue” and less confrontational.

Cllr Mione Goldspink (Lib Dem, Thorley Manor South) said: “I’m quite open to trying something different but it would be disappointing if we lost the opportunity to tell people what the town council has been doing.”

The mayor, Cllr Richard Townsend (Lib Dem, Parsonage), said it was important to set out the roles of the town, East Herts district and Herts county councils so their different responsibilities were clear. He said: “We would love to fix the roads, but we are in the same traffic jam.”

Cllr Calvin Horner (Lib Dem, Thorley Manor North)
Cllr Calvin Horner (Lib Dem, Thorley Manor North)

Cllr Townsend also observed that a new seating plan would offer an opportunity to “spread out the troublemakers”.

His quip was closed down by Cllr Calvin Horner (Lib Dem, Thorley Manor North), who said: “I don’t think we should be discussing where people sit whether we know them or not. The important thing is to move away from the confrontational set-up… to put the concerns of the people centre stage.”

Cllr John Wyllie (Con, Thorley Manor South) was firm: “I’m against proposing where people sit – that’s a step too far.”

Cllr John Wyllie (Con, Thorley Manor South)
Cllr John Wyllie (Con, Thorley Manor South)

He was happy for lengthy committee reports to be available online instead of presented to the meeting, but he was concerned the new proposals – with the mayor in control – raised concerns about political balance as questions were asked and answered.

The next annual town meeting will take place on Monday March 18, from 7.30pm, at South Mill Arts. Refreshments will be available from 7pm.

Any registered elector is welcome to attend and will be asked to sign an attendance sheet confirming they are eligible to vote in Bishop’s Stortford.

The agenda will be published on the town council’s website and town noticeboards on Monday February 26. Questions to be asked at the meeting should be submitted by Monday March 11, by emailing annual.meeting@bishopsstortfordtc.gov.uk or writing to Bishop’s Stortford Town Council, The Old Monastery, Windhill, Bishop’s Stortford, Herts CM23 2ND.

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