Sixty years ago in my home town of Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, the "Fife Free Press" newspaper was published - it has now a part of "Fife Today" www.fifetoday.co.uk/
The Fife Free Press had a motto - "Frank, Fearless, Free"
Frank - meaning Open, Honest, Direct, Forthright, Outspoken.
Fearless - meaning that it was unafraid to be frank and tell the truth.
Free - meaning that as an organisation it was free from being influenced by anyone or any other organisation.
In my actions in establishing, promoting and publicising the HRA I strive to emulate these principles as set out by the Fife Free Press.
In recent months with committee support, I asked RBWM to recognise us as a Residents Association.
The reason for this was that we had been aware of not being consulted on matters such as the Borough Local Development Plan, and we were not listed on the only list of organisations that we could find in the RBWM website that showed whom RBWM would consult.
We also wished to be allowed to speak at Planning Meetings.
I applied first to the Managing Director of RBWM, who advised we should consult RBWM Democratic Services.
So I applied to the latter who subsequently advised that the Head of Planning was dealing with it.
I objected to that as we often have to act in opposition to RBWM Planning.
During RBWM's consideration process the RBWM Head of Law and Governance advised that RBWM would not allow a Residents Association to speak at a Planning Meeting unless the RA existed in an area in which a Neighbourhood Development Plan had been established and been approved by RBWM.
I cannot see how that demand can be lawful, and have advised RBWM of my view. As there is no legal requirement that any area must have a Neighbourhood Development Plan how can the non-existence of the latter be a block to participation of a Residents Association?
Be that as it may, we have now had a response to our request, and I show it below this blog.
My comments are;
In Section 1 first paragraph;
It appears that RBWM think that those who are not members are being encouraged to become members. How is that a problem? It is clear that more members would be better. In our consultation in 2014 (by door to door leaflet drop) about the RBWM Consultation on Edge of Settlement Analysis we asked people to indicate if they wished to be emailed, and if they wished to be members. Those who indicated they wished to be members are HRA Members. Others who asked only to be emailed are Friends of HRA. Since then others have contacted me asking to be members, and all who have done so are now members.
Next, reference is made to my mention on the website of "294 members distributed" The number is now 295, and the actual line continues "distributed as follows;" then shows the street names and numbers of people from each street. How is that a problem? (See this website in the NEWS section)
Section 1 second paragraph;
We are told that there is no clarity on membership - what is expected I wonder? What is wrong with membership being free? Or that I indicate that it might not always be free? The other items mentioned here are irrelevant.
Moving on to page 2 - still Section 1;
The third paragraph states (as I did say to RBWM) that if RBWM required members names I would have to ask members permission. RBWM goes on to say I have not said that I maintain a membership register. Well, RBWM did not ask me if I maintained a register! I do maintain a register. RBWM gave me no list of what I should submit to them.
Then something is mentioned about our aim, but nothing is said as to whether it is a good aim or bad.
Page 2 - Section 2 Constitution;
Reference is made to our constitution being uploaded after the meeting of 2nd May 2107. But I had already advised in my submission that the constitution had been on the website from the outset in 2014, although it has been subject to revision - as is, and has always been, clearly stated in the constitution itself.
Page 2 - Meetings of the HRA;
It is true that there has been no full physical meeting of the membership. Also true that only one physical Committee Meeting has been minuted, although there has been one other earlier physical committee meeting that was not minuted. Further, the committee members are in touch by email.
Our approach is based on emails to members and others who want these emails. If any do not agree with what I say, they are free to advise me. In all of the time that the HRA has been in existence there have been less than 5 objections, and a huge amount of support.
I am accused of being the prime mover and controlling mind behind the HRA - that seems to me to be a compliment. Further, as I have said, members are free to advise their opinions and guide me and committee as to how we should behave. We have on the website a means to communicate in public - the Forum - and there are polls and surveys to garner opinions. In addition as I have pointed out in other blogs here, and mention again now, anyone is able to respond to my blogs.
As the HRA is free, there is no money available to hire a hall for meetings.
We are accused of not being a vibrant, representative residents association. Would anyone care to comment?
What is said in the rest of the letter by way of quotations from me is true, but regarding the last few words of the second page and beginning of the third, RBWM infer that because only six persons could attend the committee meeting, their election as a committee, and the positions of those within that committee is not democratic.
This is nonsense, as the entire membership was invited by email to volunteer to be committee members.
Few applied, and of those who did, some, on the day of the meeting found that they were unable to make it. Therefore, those who attended became the committee. At the meeting we democratically decided on who would occupy the Committee positions. This is the same as in for instance a Parish Council. They are elected by the residents, and the elected Councillors then decide amongst themselves who will occupy the positions. In our case, we could not have an election from a number of volunteers as the applicants who attended were just sufficient for the number of committee members defined in the constitution.
I particularly refer to the last quoted paragraph, where I claim in the first three sentences to the effect that our email correspondence has similarities to meetings, all can contact me to object, and the forum is available for exchange of views. It seems to me that the lack of discussion means that people are generally happy with the approach of the HRA Committee.
In conclusion - HRA is now currently receiving from RBWM invitations to comment on Consultation, so the initial problem has apparently been corrected.
As to whether or not RBWM recognise us as a "bona fide Residents Association", as long as they continue to invite us to take part in consultations this is no longer of any interest.
The text of the RBWM letter is shown below;
09 August 2017
Dear Mr Cormie
Recognition of the Holyport Residents Association (HRA)
I have been asked by our Democratic Services Team to consider and review whether the Holyport Residents Association fulfils the requirements to be recognised as a bona fide residents association.
I have reviewed your website, the Constitution of the HRA, membership of the HRA, its meetings in the context of recent correspondence and had discussions with the planning department following this review. I remain unconvinced that the HRA meets the requirements of a bona fide residents association for a number of reasons, which I set out in the rest of this letter.
1. The website
While I acknowledge that the website has been developed and updated in recent months, it supports my present view that it is a "blogging" website or "forum" for attracting membership by virtue of its email distribution list which you designate as forming your "members" apart from "friends" of the HRA. Your website states that you have "294 members distributed".
There is no clarity on membership of the HRA which I see is free (but "could change depending upon experience(?) and amount of expenditure"). Interestingly the website emphasises "members are important" but for your first (and apparently only meeting) of the HRA on 2nd May 2017, it failed to attract sufficient interest from "the membership". I refer to paragraph 1 of the Minutes headed "Introduce new members".
I also quote from your email correspondence to me of 16 June 2017:
"Until recently we had no formal meetings, and for some time we did not have a full committee, but as of end of April we asked all of our members and also non-members to apply to be Committee members.
We received applications and set a meeting date of 2nd May 2017. All stated they would come, but in the end for our first meeting we had just sufficient to establish a committee of six.
So we minuted our meeting, (at which the committee themselves democratically elected our key officers) and the minutes are on the website. The website has run for 3 or four years already."
You have stated that if we require members' names you will have to ask for their permission but equally you have not stated that you retain a membership register.
I have noted in your Constitution the aim of the HRA whose mode of working as a website:
- to collect and provide information to members and other interested groups through a web site and any other helpful means agreed by the committee.
- to publicize achievements and problems of members and the Association through the media.
- to garner information and support by working in close contact with other organisations with complementary interests.
I believe this document was uploaded after your meeting on 2nd May 2017 and would refer to paragraph 2 of these Minutes headed the "Legitimacy of the HRA" and note that following advice by the Royal Borough it is acknowledged in the Minutes that "a draft revised Constitution and a new Home Page for the HRA were considered, revised and agreed and are to be published on the HRA website", following which "the Chairman to ask RBWM to formally recognise the HRA". This does not evidence or support an established resident association since 2013.
3. Meetings of the HRA
Your website reveals only one meeting of the HRA since its inception or existence from March 2013 (notwithstanding your assertion of its existence as far back as RBWM correspondence since 2014). I have concluded, based on the evidence available, that this is personal correspondence from yourself as the prime mover and controlling mind behind the HRA. Had the HRA been the bona fide residents association supported by the residents eligible for membership then I would expect that there would be documented evidence on the website of meetings held by the HRA since 2013/14. The website cites only one meeting which you admit in correspondence of 15th May 2017 to Alison Alexander:
"Until recently we had not formed meetings and for some time we did not have a full committee". You further state; "we received applications and set a meeting date of 2nd May 2017. All stated they would come but in the end, for our first meeting we had just sufficient to establish a committee of six." I also refer you to evidence of the Minutes of the meeting of 2nd May 2017 published on the website, in particular, paragraph 1. This is not evidence of a vibrant, representative, residents association in the Holyport geographical area (as defined), but of a self styled individuals group meeting that is forced to rely on a fall back attendance to make up its Committee ("openly and democratically" elected by the six "members" present).
I further note from the Minutes of the meeting of 2nd May 2017 (paragraph 3.4) dealing with HRA publicity: "James Rendell and Andrew Cormie to liaise on how best to raise the level of awareness of the HRA. Also other committee members to advise any thoughts on this". The evidence does not satisfy me that regular meetings of members have been held by the HRA for which an agenda and minutes are available on the website. "Key Officers" have not been elected from a thriving membership in an open democratic process but by default.
In conclusion, and for the above reasons (I have fully set out above), I am not satisfied that the HRA fulfils the requirements of being a bona fide residents association that can be recognised by the Royal Borough. I believe the HRA is a "blogging" website association relying on a "virtual membership" through its email list which is supported by your email to Karen Shepherd on 2nd July and I quote:
"There have been no meetings of the entire group except by email and in our forum, that is they get emails from me and sometimes people response, sometimes not, just as they would in a meeting. All members have a copy of my name and address and email address. In the forum people respond or query and are answered by me or by others in the group. For some reasons though there has latterly been little action on the forum. Further Polls and Surveys have been placed on our website to assess members views. Committee Members have also emailed amongst ourselves. We had a Committee meeting in 2014 to decide on action for the response to the RBWM Edge of Settlement Analysis / Borough Plan, but since then have met only through emails except for the meeting whose minutes are on the website at; hhtp://www. holyportresidentsassociation. org/minutes-of-meetings. html
Head of Law and Governance
Cc: Alison Alexander, Managing Director Cllr Simon Dudley, Leader