Hood wins leadership challenge despite angry residents and Councillors

Parish Council chair Peter “Stumpy” Hood received a hostile greeting at the Annual General Meeting at Colnbrook Village Hall last night, which saw him challenged for the leadership of the Council.

"Stumpy" Hood, wearing the ceremonial chain of office stolen from his house earlier this year.

"Stumpy" Hood, wearing the ceremonial chain of office stolen from his house earlier this year.

After Hood had reported “good progress” had been made on reinvigoration of the Village Hall a visibly angry Charles Burke moved to the audience to ask “as a resident” when the AGM will be held. Faced with a barrage of angry questions from residents on a range of subjects from dog mess to plastic policemen, Cllr Hood refused to engage positively with the Colnbrook Community Association. He was later challenged for the leadership of the Council and appeared surprised at the hostility from within and outside the Council.

Cllr Hood reported everything in the Parish Plan bar one item was on track, in a generally upbeat annual “state of the union” report:

  • The Jubilee Clock fund target of £20,000 had now been raised and the clock would be erected later in the Summer, along with a Jubilee dinner on 16h June at La Bettola Italian restaurant.
  • Village Hall Reinvigoration was making good progress.
  • He had personally lobbied hard with local doctors surgeries and was optimistic that better services in Colnbrook would still happen.
  • The Colnbrook Residents Association had held several events designed to promote community cohesion, together with the “Love where you live”.
  • TGW would possibly provide a much needed new bus service to Langley if the Olympic Coach Park goes ahead.
  • The Parish Council were “trying really hard for the benefit of everyone in the village” to make it a “better place to live or a less unpleasant place to live“.

Hood also made a passing reference to the new youth club known as The Hut, which he said he saw as very positive but new very little about. This will come as a relief to those involved who feared it may be closed down.

Hood defended the increase of 5% in the precept at a time when Council Tax frozen nationally under Government diktat. It was highly regrettable to have to increase the Parish precept this year, he said, although insisting the average increase in the precept over last few years is only 2.9% “which only the better off will have to pay anyway”.

However it was the ongoing Village Hall debacle which caused Cllr Burke to take his highly unusual stance.  He claimed,

I have not been given a straight answer by anyone on the Parish Council and I have even been threatened with legal action by one of the Trustees [serving councillor Howard Jones].

An irritated Cllr Jones said Burke should refer his query to the Chair and Vice chair of the Village Hall Trust and he would get his answer “as he had been told many times before“. Burke insisted that he had been “met with a brick wall and did not expect to be met with a brick wall from fellow councillors“. On pressing the Chair directly, Hood told Burke that he did not know when the AGM would be and that the Parish Council was the wrong forum for such a request.

While it may have been the wrong forum to discuss matters relating to the Village Hall Trust, much of the Chairman’s update focused on activities in the name of “community cohesion” organised by the relaunched Colnbrook Residents Association and a furore erupted when the floor was opened for questions.

HOSTILE QUESTIONS

Hood dodged a question about whether he has yet apologised to chair of the Colnbrook Community Association, Vicki Brenner, under the terms of his dressing down by the Standards Committee earlier this year following a complaint of bullying and harassment. On being asked whether he would now instruct the CRA to engage constructively for the good of the community, after some hesitation, he said “if the mutual respect was there, and it didn’t seem to be“.

(Hood, a freeman of the parish, is currently understood to be “on report” with Slough Borough Council.  Some residents have complained that he should be stripped of his freemanship.)

The “plastic policemen” as one resident put it – referring to the two PCSOs who patrol Colnbrook and Poyle under special contract to the Parish Council – came under particular fire from several residents. Hood confirmed they cost £33,000 and the Parish has signed up to a two year deal. One resident said he had not seen the PCSOs for a very long time, but Cllr Laxman said he must be mistaken “as he comes into my shop at least once a week“. Cllr Hood said he would consider village opinion if the view was that they should be cancelled, while Cllr Angell was adamant that we would miss them if they were gone, and that he had personally been turned around and was now very supportive of their work. One suggestion made was that it would be better to spend the money on a youth worker.

Other resident questions to the Chair included a question regarding how the High Street was becoming known as “Dog Shit Alley“. The resident was advised by the Council this was not a Parish responsibility but sat with SBC, while another resident pointed out that SBC no longer had any dog wardens. The resident was advised to take his shovel and pick it up for the benefit of the community.

Another resident challenged the wisdom of accepting donations towards the Jubilee Clock from McArdle in the midst of enforcement action by SBC for blatant abuses of Colnbrook’s Green Belt, and also demanded to know how much had TGW donated to the Jubilee Clock fund.

Roland Hewson, the paid Parish Clerk, was admonished for failing to produce detailed minutes. In response to why residents’ complaints from a previous meeting had not been followed up, he answered that the law prevents individuals from the public being named and the minutes were therefore necessarily vague.  The Chair promised to follow up on any complaints if the details could be provided to him.

Earlier Hood appeared contrite and sincere for not being able to do everything that he would have liked and particularly lamented having to increase the precept, insisting “we are YOUR servants“. However as the nature of the questions became more uncomfortable, so the mood became increasingly defensive. Angell and Hood both sat back with arms on top of head – Angell at one point shouting his point – while the clerk looked particularly disgruntled. Insisting that it was up to residents to reach out to the Parish Council rather than the other way around, Angell complained that nobody turns up to Parish surgeries, and Hewson (not for the first time) stated that residents only turn up “when they have something to gripe about”.

Hood said that he hoped for “fair reporting” and an end to the “lies” in the village that the Parish Council had not acted against SIFE, pointing at the several documents written by Dexter Smith.  Later in the meeting he complained to fellow councillors of the hostile nature of the audience with residents.

LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE

The rumour mill had suggested that up to three serving councillors would step down at the AGM but this did not happen.  Nevertheless there was an unexpected challenge to Hood’s leadership from Charles Burke.

Cllr Hood has led an increasingly divided council with so-called “junior” councillors feeling isolated by the Independent Minds grouping of veteran stalwarts who had been resistant to new ideas. Attendance in recent months has been falling off as disillusion with Hood’s abrasive style and dictatorial manner set in.

Cllrs Michael Brenner and Mike Nye backed Charles Burke in his bid to replace Peter Hood as chairman for the next year. Although the bid was not expected to win, and the other Independent Minds representatives rallied around Hood as expected. Joined with Dexter Smith, Hood was re-elected with a 6-3 win over Burke. Cllrs Angell, Underwood, Jones, MacDougald, Laxman, and Smith voted for Hood while Cllrs Brenner, Nye and Verma voted for Burke. Leslie Jarrett abstained inexplicably.

FALLOUT

An online poll on Colnbrook Views had gathered 46 responses in its first 48 hours by yesterday’s AGM, with a damning 73% voting the first year of the Parish Council as a “waste of space” and just one respondent opting for “excellent progress”.

One frustrated resident said after the meeting:

How can he talk about community cohesion when he is such a divisive figure. We’re not going to see any cooperation between the Parish Council and other village groups without a massive change of heart.

Hood has dominated the Parish Council since it was established 15 years ago, with councillors being “re-elected” unopposed en masse until last year due to disinterest. Grouping together as “Independent Minds” seven were able to retain their seats last May as a record 28 candidates stood in response to local anger at the inaction in the face of SIFE and bitter acrimony with the CCA. Hood won a backing of just 12% of the electorate.

The same resident continued:

We need somebody who is much more of a listener, someone who will work in the background to get things done quietly.  We don’t need a “look at me, I’m going to carry the Olympic Torch” type but somebody who will want to include everybody and use all the available talents.

All in all a fascinating, if slightly farcical evening … but a quite depressing indictment of the state of community cohesion and cooperation which is in desperate need of repair.

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