I have been to some odd meetings in my time but this was one of the oddest. Last night, unitary, town and parish councillors met with a phalanx of Shropshire Council officers to debate infrastructure priorities for the Ludlow area. But the meeting proved to be more like a crowdfunded proofreading than a structured discussion about the future of this area of the county.
Discussion of the most controversial infrastructure proposals, combining both GP surgeries and community health services on a single site, was blocked by the chair.
The first meeting on the forthcoming Place Plan for the Ludlow area was held last night. The plan will set out the infrastructure priorities for the next several years. It is part of a new approach by Shropshire Council. It comes shortly after cabinet member Gwilym Butler argued that market towns like Ludlow don’t need an infrastructure fund because money will come through the Place Plan. This money will not get anywhere near meeting our needs.
Councillor Butler chaired the meeting last night. It is a shame that the county’s Local Democracy Reporter was not there to provide a detailed record but the meeting was private.
It was clear from the outset that many of the nine representatives from Shropshire Council didn’t know their Ludfords from their Ludlows, or their Brimfields from their Bromfields. Some had to read prepared material from their mobile phones. They could have been anywhere.
Only councillor’s were invited to this meeting. Shropshire Council threw huge resources at it. Directors of schools, planning, economy and roads were there. Four other officers. And a cabinet member. I wonder how much that cost.
Most of the night was a very expensive proofreading exercise of a poorly informed first draft of the plan. I sent in corrections earlier in the week after a conference call with a couple of directors. Many of my amendments were accepted, including removing the need for Ludlow to spending money on upgrading a sewerage works on Oswestry.
But the draft Place Plan was still flawed. That meant that most of the meeting was concerned with correcting details. Many of the issues were several years old with the chair constantly asking whether the facts were right and the issue still current. We struggled to understand some of the issues, including references to the non-existent cycleway from Ludlow to Brimfield and to Shuts and Passages. There was no strategic discussion at all.
All this could have been achieved by email. There was nothing confidential discussed. The public could have been allowed into the meeting under the usual rules for a “meeting held in public”.
Instead, Shropshire Council fielded nine people, including four directors, in what was probably the most expensive proofreading exercise in our county’s history.
There was useful work in reordering priorities. Every parish had different needs. My view is that the two biggest priorities are improving the park and ride and building a footbridge over the A49.
The headline issue was the statement that our two GP surgeries and community health services should relocate to one site. This seemed to have come from nowhere. None of the GPs knew about this.
Health campaigners have suggested on BBC Radio Shropshire that this is a plot to centralise all services at the Helena Lane site, freeing up valuable sites at Portcullis, Station Drive and Ludlow Community Hospital.
We didn’t get to discuss this.
Councillor Butler made it very clear that reorganisation of health services was not a matter for elected representatives. It was a matter for Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group only and it could not be discussed at the meeting.
Shropshire Council needs to urgently rethink its approach to Place Plans. The development of infrastructure priorities should be an open and democratic process. Not the inefficient and secretive process we saw last night.