October 22 2014 Latest news:
by Sam Gelder
Sunday, May 4, 2014
They are the voice of the people, used to protest, oppose and campaign, but are petitions worth the paper they are written on?
Startling new statistics show that not one of the 34 applications submitted to Havering Council in the last three years has been successful.
These include plans to erect a temporary ice rink in Romford, opposition to parking zones in Upminster and a protest against the over-development of Rainham Police Station.
They have been used as a form of protest since the 18th century, but are they still an effective form of action for the people?
Leader of the Havering Residents’ Association, Cllr Clarence Barrett, is a “big fan,” but believes they need the right level of exposure to be effective.“
“They are still one of the most effective ways of campaigning for change,” he insists. “If you follow the right building blocks they will be effective, but you need to speak to the right people, if they are not done properly they will miss the point of what they are all about.
“But, I have sent a couple and never knew what happened to them.”
Fellow councillor, and Labour leader, Cllr Keith Darvill, believes although petitions form a vital part of the democratic system, their lack of success is what makes people become disheartened with politics.
“The trouble with them is a lot of people thing they can do something,” said the former MP, who believes local government should learn from Parliament, where a certain number of signatures triggers a debate.
“They [petitions] have no teeth behind them. I’m not surprised by the statistics one bit. If you get a number of signatures you should have to have a debate for half an hour or an hour.
He accused the current administration of not treating the petitions in the correct manner, claiming the Conservative’s “run roughshod” over the opposing parties.
“It annoys me very much, I can’t remember receiving an explanation or detailed reason regarding my petitions not going through. We got 7,000 signatures on a petition for the ice rink.”
The council website states it “welcomes petitions from residents or others who wish to draw attention to matters of concern.”
Council leader Steven Kelly says they do have a place in society, and the administration treats them all with the respect they deserve, though often they are put together too soon after an event and better solutions are available for certain issues.
“I am stunned there’s been so many,” he said. “I can’t think of any major ones other than car parking and then we thought they were wrong. There is no automatic right of success and there has been some fatuous petitions. But We treat them all very seriously.”
Rosina Purnell, of the activist group Havering Friends of the Earth, said the process for both petitions and consultations was wrong.
“This administration cut out Area Committee meetings too,” she said. “As a person interested in local politics, that was our opportunity to find out information and give opinions.
“They ought to talk to people who do the petitions. It’s undemocratic.”