It’s been a year since I was elected to Shropshire Council. Around 11.30pm on 13 March 2014, the returning officer announced that I had won by 197 votes. Giddy headed and absolutely exhausted, I crept home via the Church Inn. Fixed in my mind was the need to send a comment to the Shropshire Star before it went to press the next morning.
It took some days to recover from my exhaustion and some weeks to catch up with client work. But I felt I was in my stride as a councillor from day one.
Like any new job, it’s been a steep learning curve. I’ve made mistakes. But a lot has gone right. And there’s a lot more to learn. I am really grateful for all the support I have received from colleagues and the people of Ludlow.
One of the big successes has been my blog and newsletter. It was always my intention to use my role as a councillor to tell people what’s happening in Ludlow and Shropshire, and to let my constituents know what I am up to at their expense. I have been less successful at getting printed newsletters out. On this I promise to improve.
I have raged at the way Ludlow is treated by Shropshire Council. Our town was at the heart of South Shropshire District Council and facilities created in the SSDC era are being progressively withdrawn. The same withdrawal has happened in Bridgnorth. This unitary council runs on a control freak centralised model that is ill suited to our diverse county.
But enough of politics.
What does a typical week in my life as a councillor look like? In practice there is no typical week. Some weeks are overcrowded with meetings. On others, I get space to work on longer term issues and even earn some money from the clients I write for.
On Monday and Tuesday this week, I worked on planning matters from the early hours until late in the night. On Monday morning and part of the afternoon, I joined the South Planning Committee on site visits in and around Bridgnorth. I think it was a first for our planning committee to have to push the planning minibus out of the mud! On Tuesday morning, we were here in Ludlow and then drove out to Neen Sollars. There we were taken out to a proposed solar farm site by tractor – which was certainly better than pushing the minibus. We arrived back at Shirehall for the South Planning Committee with minutes to spare.
It was a particularly challenging meeting lasting more than four hours. We threw out the solar farm plans at Neen Sollars and another scheme for housing at Broseley. We deferred the decision on the Bromfield Road garage. There were half a dozen other applications, including one for a rehabilitation unit for women with an offending or drug misuse history. This scheme is in remote fields – that’s where the minibus got stuck. The proposal breaks every planning rule in the book. But sometimes you have to break every rule for an essential need. We approved this application.
On Wednesday I spent my time mostly working for clients but I took a couple of hours out to work with our historic environment specialist on a number of heritage issues in Ludlow.
Today, I have again mostly been working for my clients. But I have squeezed in time to get an overflowing street bin emptied and to talk someone through part of the planning process. I’ve done some work on the forthcoming public inquiry into plans to build 215 houses off the Bromfield Road and A49. I’ve agreed to discussions on safe pedestrian crossings for the proposed petrol station and store on the corner of Coronation Avenue. I’ve dashed off a press comment on the future of the youth centre and a call for volunteers to help keep youth services going. And I squeezed in a meeting on community resilience – supporting the vulnerable and elderly – and on plans to replace the maisonettes on Sandpits Road. I have just reported a failed Belisha beacon light.
None of this is very exciting but I hope it is important for our community.
There is a big pile of stuff already for tomorrow, which I will again squeeze in alongside client work.
A year ago today, I couldn’t get to sleep on the night I was elected. I was firing off emails, facebooks and tweets telling people the news of my election.
Around 4.30am I sent an email to the Shropshire Star saying that I was “humbled” by my big majority. I still am. I could also have said I was excited by my new role. I still am. And I could have told the Star that I expected to find being a councillor frustrating much of the time. That would have been an understatement.
I did tell the Star that the election has not been about party politics: “It’s been about getting a decent deal for Ludlow from Shropshire Council.”
That’s what I am still working for. With my fellow councillors we are getting a lot done, even if sometimes we feel the tide is against us and against Ludlow.