Stunned members of the public listened in total disbelief as he condemned as "scurrilous" an anonymous letter he had been sent, which, he revealed, accused him of having a "very heavy back pocket".
The highly unusual and sensitive nature of this statement is underlined by the decision at the following meeting (on April 22) to alter the April 1 minutes to "add reference to the statement made by the Chairman in respect of the anonymous correspondence received relating to the planning application for 28-30 Marine Drive". Mr Livermore was clearly furious at the attack on his integrity and the heated atmosphere continued throughout a fraught meeting.
Some 30 members of the public were there to hear the council discuss the highly controversial proposal for Marine Drive in Goring, which was recommended for approval despite a 226-strong residents’ petition against it.
The proposal (WB/07/1511/FULL) was submitted by Strutt and Parker plus Leslie Christopher Homes. It involved demolishing two homes and replacing them with a three-storey block of eight flats. Residents considered the scheme completely out of place in the area and feared it would set a precedent for the whole Goring Hall Estate. The area is protected by building covenants, but the flats not only represented a change in the nature of the estate, but also broke established ‘building lines’ by as much as five metres - other much smaller infringements on the estate have always been opposed by the council in the past.
The residents had also been surprised to see that, before the crucial meeting, the site had already been advertised for sale at £2 million, with the blurb falsely claiming "full planning now granted". A letter was read out from the Worthing Society, commenting: "It is obvious that the developer is very confident of getting such approval and we can only ask why."
Although this comment did not accuse Mr Livermore or anyone else of any wrong-doing, he dismissed the letter with the very same term he had used earlier - ‘scurrilous’. Our dictionary defines ‘scurrilous’ as ‘grossly or obscenely abusive or defamatory’, so this was a controversial accusation to level at Worthing’s highly respected amenity society, to put it mildly!
The controversy continued throughout the Marine Drive debate, with a string of somewhat unusual occurrences:
* Mr Livermore and an officer initially told ward councillor Ann Sayers she could not speak against the application. Other councillors did not agree with this ruling and voted to allow her to speak. However, when she started to do so, the visibly rattled Mr Livermore abruptly ordered her to speak from the back of the room rather than the front!
* Before the vote took place, Mr Livermore called a recess and the councillors filed out for private discussions behind the scenes, without the public being able to hear what was being said.
* The vote was a dead heat, with the five in favour including Mr Livermore. But as chairman he is allowed to vote twice, using the so-called ‘casting vote’, so he was able to personally ensure the development got the go-ahead.
Although the decision on this case has been made (and the property developers’ fliers are already going out on the Goring Hall Estate, looking for further lucrative sites), it is clear the repercussions will linger on. We are reliably informed that there is "panic" at the Town Hall over a number of the issues that have been raised and application WB/07/1511/FULL may well turn out to be a historic turning point in the controversial story of property development and Worthing Borough Council... Watch this space!
STRONG views from local Tory MP Tim Loughton, who has come out against a fingerprint system being used at schools in West Sussex.
Reported The Argus (March 3): "Mr Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, has said it is another step towards a surveillance society."
This is commendable enough, but rather strange, in the light of one of the Shadow Minister for Children’s profitable extra-parliamentary activities.
The informative website www.theyworkforyou.com, which publicises info from the MPs’ register of interests, reveals that the anti-surveillance MP is, remarkably: "Chairman of Classwatch Limited; an unquoted company providing camera systems to educational establishments. (£30,001-£35,000)."
Loughton must surely now be a front-runner for the 2008 Nobel Prize for Nauseating Bare-Faced Hypocrisy.
In unparalleled scenes at the Assembly Hall on May 2, a bureaucratic cock-up over passes to the count ended up with a candidate and her supporters being physically attacked by security and police - she and another were then arrested . As the The Argus commented: "The sight of council candidates being pinned to the ground and supporters forcibly dispersed are more reminiscent of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe than conservative West Sussex." And we can also reveal that on April 1 a group of young campaigners against climate change were intimidated and threatened with arrest for handing out a few leaflets in the town centre.
The incident at the election count concerned Dawn Smith, who was standing for the Stop Durrington’s Overdevelopment - Save Titnore’s Trees party, in Northbrook ward. She was thrown to the ground by police, held down with her hands behind her back, knelt on and handcuffed, then held for four hours in a cell at Durrington police station - all for objecting to her supporters being violently ejected from the count.
Dawn, who was not charged, explained that there was confusion over the passes for her guests at the count, who included Titnore eco-campers. Names she had registered had not been recorded. Other people, considered of ‘respectable’ appearance, were waved through by security but they demanded ID from her supporters, who were physically attacked when they managed to walk into the hall anyway.
Dawn said: "The only reason they did this was because the guys had dreadlocks. I’m not going to stand by and see someone jumped on." Added a witness, who had earlier been allowed in without ID: "It was totally unnecessary and totally down to them not having their bureaucracy together."
The previous incident happened when half a dozen supporters of Worthing Rising Tide, including one dressed as a polar bear, decided to mark Fossil Fools Day by handing out leaflets outside businesses linked to oil firms and climate change, with the polar bear "cancelling her bank account" in protest. This caused no problems and in fact, recalled one: "We got a good public response". However, staff at the Royal Bank of Scotland threatened to call the police and, when the protesters had moved on to Thomson Holidays a female community cop, a certain PCSO Smith, came up to them, asked what they were doing and demanded their names, addresses and dates of birth. "I don’t think she even said please, she was very rude."
This was enough to make one of the youngsters leave, fearing he was mixed up in some kind of crime. PCSO Smith persisted, claiming (wrongly!) it was an offence not to give their details and threatening to call back-up to arrest them. When challenged as to what law she was invoking, she said: "I don’t know, I’m not a police officer!" and then went on to complain the protesters had wasted her time!
Said one of the teenagers: "I’m annoyed that the police feel they have to try and criminalise us. We were trying to do a good deed, make the world a better place in our own small way, and we just got harassed for it."
The first meeting of ‘Worthing Revolution’ is to be held on Thursday May 29 at 8pm in the function room of Beechwood Hall Hotel, Wykeham Road, Worthing. Said Jim: "I would like to establish a group that can not only work with local council and national organisations such as Sustrans and CTC but also work in tandem with any local walking and equine groups where potential conflict is an issue. Worthing has a lot to gain from making itself more attractive to cyclists from long distance cycle tourists to local shoppers, from children feeling safe riding to school to the elderly who see the bicycle as a useful mobility aid." Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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