Sunday, July 24, 2011

SLWP Hearings in Merton.

The Council Chamber - Merton Civic Centre*
Inspector Cook talks to Sutton Green Party's Jim Duffy during a recess.

Most commentators covering the appearance of The Murdochs before the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee viewed their questioning of the media mogul as nothing more than a light grilling. At approximately the same time of this momentous example of democracy in action in the mother of all parliaments [the best democracy money can buy] Inspector Brian Cook – appointed by the Secretary State to examine the soundness of the South London Waste Plan – was also questioning a select number of individuals and institutions. Both he and the Select Committee were playing a crucial part in the accountability element of our democracy.

If one compares the standard of questioning carried out by the parliamentarians in the Select Committee with Inspector Cook’s examination of the Plan, then the MPs morph into Inspector Morse-like investigators, and Inspector Cook comes across as an Inspector Jacques Clouseau type figure, fairly affable but restricted in competence. It should be made clear that Inspector Brian Cook is not bumbling or clueless, moreover the powers available to him restrain his prowess to the point where he is sadly, just part of process.

For example on the first day of the Hearing, he relayed to Duncan Clarke, the current Project Manager for the South London Waste Partnership [please read on to find out what happened his predecessor] the concerns that Croydon Friends of the Earth had about the lack of engagement and innovation in the consultation itself. To which Mr Clarke replied the South London Waste Partnership (the councils of Merton, Kingston, Sutton and Croydon) had exceeded statutory regulation: three months in length instead of six weeks.

On the final day the Inspector Cook presided over syntax changes to the Plan itself: the word ‘can’ inserted here, the odd spelling correction there. Inspector Cook will now review the Plan again, along with the substantial number of changes, not a number of substantial changes, something Inspector Cook was keen to point out when, during his closing remarks, his words came out the wrong way round.

Inspector Cook will now review the full Plan over the next few weeks before giving his final observations.

Emma Smyth was the previous Project Manager of the South London Waste Partnership. She toured Neighbourhood Partnerships explaining what the Plan entailed back in 2009. She even accepted an invitation to make a presentation to our local Green Party. On the first day I noticed that one of the ‘name cards’ identifying who was scheduled to speak had the name Emma Smyth. She was speaking on behalf of the waste company SITA. She is clearly available for hire. I must remember to ask the Chair of the Stop The Incinerator campaign how much money is in the coffers.

*Another interesting observation is the layout of the council chamber itself. The seating was semi-circular in style, much like the European Parliament, whereas Croydon's council chamber is House of Commons style and thus adversarial in its nature. Ironically, Merton is an NOC leading to more consensual politics. Maybe Croydon needs to alter its seating....??

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