I have dealt with the Cattle Market issue in a separate post, as it is long enough as it is. Quick summary – the application was passed, with all Conservatives in support as far as I can tell.
While I’d been to meetings of the Cabinet before, I’d never been in the public gallery. As the Cabinet is smaller, the public are usually allowed in to the back of the chamber. Not for this one.
Only about half a dozen members of the public turned up – a few of whom appeared to have connections to the council or local politics. I’ve seen meetings at Crawley where hundreds have turned up, and with the press coverage had expected at least 20 people to be there.
And it’s a good job too – the gallery would fit at most 50 people. It’s quite high up, and does not give a good view. Of the two rows of seats, the one in front will let you see up to 30 councillors without craning over the edge – and even then, you have to lean right over to look at the top of the heads of some of them. The view from the back row must be even worse.
At Crawley, there was a speaker system, with each councillor having a microphone, controlled by the mayor. Here, there’s none of that modern stuff. However, the acoustics were quite good. The lady next to me had forgotten her hearing aid, but seemed to be able to pick up most of what was said. I would even go as far as to say that it was much better (although the system at Crawley also meant that a member who spoke for too long could be cut off, rather than having to be interrupted).
Because of the vantage point (or lack of it) it was hard to see exactly which councillor was talking if they were at the back. Even if you could see them, it wasn’t always easy to see their nameplate (so if I get names wrong, that is why). On the other hand, the nameplates were at least colour coded so those I could see also told me which party they were in.
The mayor, Kam Kaur, did pretty well. It was her first full meeting after being elected, and it’s a daunting task – especially when there’s a contentious issue at hand.
Other than the Cattle Market application, the main debate held was on the changes to the Core Strategy – mainly around planning issues.
Like most towns (indeed most places in the UK), Rugby has a target to build a number of new homes in the next 15-20 years. Like most places, there is local opposition (especially when specific bits of land are mentioned).
Cllr Ron Ravenhall (Lib Dem) gave an odd speech suggesting that falling birthrates and the swine flu epidemic would mean that demand for housing would fall. There are two problems with Cllr Ravenhall’s facts. Firstly, he quoted a birth rate of 1.66 (which I assume he meant to mean the fertility rate, not births per 1000 people which would be about 12 for the UK). This is not the latest figure I have seen – it’s about 1.8 according to wikipedia, not far off replacement levels. Besides, there are other impacts on population and housing demand that he has forgotten – death rates falling and life expectancy rising would mean that overall population will grow – and the type of family unit has changed in that far more people are single than used to be (and this includes ageing widows/widowers).
There was also talk about how housing demand had fallen due to the recession. This is also poppycock. The real issue is that house prices were overinflated, to the point that people could not afford them, and then when the bubble burst in 2007, people found they couldn’t even afford the places they were buying. Still, house prices are on average about twice what they were 10 years ago, yet average/median incomes have not kept pace. So we find that where a house might have cost 3-4x a normal salary to buy, it now still costs 6-8 times a normal salary, even after a major market correction. Clearly demand is still high. If it isn’t, I suggest that this would mean that we have zero homelessness and few people on the register for council/social housing. I bet anyone a shiny pound coin that this is not the case.