PUBLISHED: 12:13 07 August 2008 | UPDATED: 13:28 06 May 2010
SIR, — Fun and games at the Nomansland Management Committee meeting at St Albans Civic Centre last week. About 70 members of the public herded into the district council chamber for a debate and vote about the pros and cons of cattle grazing and fencing on
SIR, - Fun and games at the Nomansland Management Committee meeting at St Albans Civic Centre last week.
About 70 members of the public herded into the district council chamber for a debate and vote about the pros and cons of cattle grazing and fencing on Nomansland Common. The first hurdle was that the committee of six drawn from elected members of the district and the two parish councils had no chairman and no tie-breaker rules if they locked horns (they did).
The second fence to jump was, in theory, more contentious since the Supreme Cabinet Leaders had issued a diktat that in view of the recent Woodland Trust bombshell about the proposed new forest in in the area, the agenda should exclude a debate and vote on grazing and fencing. Some us smelled a cowpat.
The committee was, predictably, squared up over the election of a chairman - three predicted to be pro-grazing and fencing, three against. The district council's solicitor led them out to a small adjoining pen for a first-one-to-blink competition. They returned a few minutes later. The mood was they wouldn't agree and we would all be off home. However, pro-grazing Wheathampstead councillor Judy Shardlow surprisingly and selflessly stood aside in favour of anti-grazing Wheathampstead councillor Neil Page, who was duly elected. All councillors are equal but some are more equal than others. The importance of this process was not lost on the assembled flock - the anti-grazers now had a crucial casting vote.
The chairman set out his stall straight away - the critical item on the agenda would be re-instated, discussed and taken to a vote. The officer started to read out his report which everyone had already scanned in the committee papers but was brought to a halt when the chairman invited members of the public to speak yeah or neigh to the motion. Panic spread through the hitherto stolid ranks of the pro-grazers; the new chairman not only believes in community engagement, he's summoned the unwashed to speak - this could be the end of democracy!
Five speakers criticised the grazing and fencing proposal and the flawed consultation process - more than 75 per cent voted against but the officers and their Countryside Management Service consultants had nevertheless recommended ignoring the views of the public. Only one of the bovine supporters spoke out - in favour of a delay, not the principle itself.
In the meantime two members of the committee, Wheathampstead councillor Shardlow and Sandridge councillor Rirsch had charged out of the chamber and were not present to vote. How much more persuasive might their case have been if they tied 3-3 and the chairman had to use his casting vote to get a result?
The officers tried to set out their stall with a new tactic - grazing-lite - but were swotted into the long grass by an increasingly confident chairman who was then reprimanded by the council's solicitor for stating the obvious: "the officers have their own agendas". Most of us had worked this out many months ago.
Finally, the vote. Chairman Page had drafted a proposal which effectively killed off grazing and fencing on Nomansland Common - for the moment, at least. The three anti-grazing members voted in favour and the one pro-grazing councillor still in the chamber showed great courage in adversity by abstaining.
Friends of Nomansland went off to celebrate while the shaken Supreme Leaders went into a corner of the pen to lick their wounds and chew the cud. Experience suggests that a huddle of glum-looking councillors swishing tails means stormy weather ahead. The anti-grazers may have successfully jumped the course but the cunning strategists could be re-arranging the fences.
East Common, Harpenden.