There’s been two public meetings about long overdue works planned for Seven Dials in Brighton & Hove recently. They could not have been more different. Both of them were held after the public consultation on the proposed redevelopment of the area had been closed.
The first public meeting was organised by Brighton & Hove City Council and held on 17th December 2012. The Chair of the Council’s Transport Committee, Ian Davey, and the Leader of the Council, Jason Kitcat, attended. The original scheme to reorganise the Seven Dials roundabout had been amended as a result of the consultation process and that was the purpose of the meeting ~ to present that amended plan to the public. By all accounts, it was an angry occasion, with a lot of shouting. About 150 people attended.
The second public meeting was organised by the Seven Dials Save Our Tree Action Group, an emergency campaign formed by local residents to save the rare Wheatley Elm on the corner between Vernon Terrace and Seven Dials. That meeting was held last night (Tuesday 12th March 2013). Neither Mr Davey nor Mr Kitcat, whose ward the tree is in, attended the meeting, which took place on a wintry night and following a last minute change of venue (because the original was closed due to snow and ice). It was a calm and constructive occasion. About 120 people attended.
The purpose of the first meeting was to explain what the city council had decided to do with the roundabout and the surrounding area, following the most extensive consultation the city had ever completed. The bigwigs from the council did the talking and took questions. The purpose of the second meeting was to find a way to force the council to admit that its consultation had been flawed because it had omitted to mention at any point in its process that a rare Elm tree would be felled as part of any of the plans. The people did the talking and together produced a range of sensible proposals to prove to the council that the Elm tree did not need to be felled.
I did not attend that first meeting because I was satisfied with the overall shape of the concluded plans. I attended the second meeting because, in common with huge numbers of other residents, I did not realise that the council planned to fell the Elm tree. The consensus last night was that the council could easily adopt one or more of the peoples proposals to save the Elm, at little cost and with minimal disruption to the work which had been temporarily halted by the direct action of the residents in the previous week. We focused on how to persuade Mr Davey to recall the Transport Committee to consider, for the first time, this issue.
However, at the end of the meeting, I rose to speak from the floor and pointed out that Mr Davey’s power of recall was not the only mechanism by which the tree could be saved. Briefly, I explained that there were more legal remedies available (other than the ones already mentioned), that I knew how to launch them, that I was willing to do it in my own name and that since I would be representing myself, it would not cost the arm and leg normally charged by barristers to fight applications for judicial review. I said that if I was forced to go down this route, I was confident of success and then the council would be obliged to start the entire consultation process again.
Mr Davey and his fellow Green councillors should take note. The residents are desperate for this not to turn into a political issue but the fact is that no-one expected a Green Party council to prioritise motor traffic over a rare and much loved tree. The chair of the Brighton & Hove Green Party, Rob Shepherd, was in the room and so I pointed him out to the assembled crowd (he had been silent until then) and demanded to know whether he had personally asked Mr Davey whether he intended to recall the Transport Committee or not. I sat down to a hearty round of applause.
Mr Shepherd said he was “losing his voice” but then spoke for a few minutes. He needn’t have. All he could mumble was that he hadn’t spoken to Mr Davey in over a week, which means that he hadn’t contacted him since the campaign to save the tree began. He claimed to know that Mr Davey was “listening” but failed to say how he knew this or what that even meant. Mr Shepherd did not receive a hearty round of applause.
Whilst the campaign to save the tree is decidedly not party political, inevitably residents will make political judgements of those who represent them in the corridors of power, as a result of the manner in which local politicians respond to their legitimate grievances. After the meeting closed, Mr Davey contacted the campaign to give his apologies for not attending.