I attended the first re-formatted Community Forum this week, an opportunity for Residents to learn more about what is happening in their area and meet their Councillors. There was also representation from local PCTs (primary care trusts) and the Police. Whilst the theme of the evening was "budgets" and the Leader of the Council, Terry Cutmore, invited questions from the audience on any aspects of the Council's spending plans, he also made it clear that questions on any subject were welcome.
In their previous incarnation, the Community Forums were arranged formally, such that the Councillors sat behind a row of tables, and questions ideally needed to be submitted prior to the meeting.
Whilst "special guest" attendees from the PCTs, and the Police, joined the Leader and Chief Executive of the Council at the top table, the local District and Parish Councillors sat with the residents. More importantly, questions could be raised at the meeting, and the intention was to answer them, as far as possible, there and then.
Funnily enough, no questions were raised about the Council's budgets. I guess, unsurprisingly, no one has studied the budgets in detail or no one present was affected by the consequences of some of the cut backs. Maybe when the West Community Forum takes place, residents from Great Wakering may have a thing or two to say about the closure of the Sports Centre for example.
Policing, however, was a popular subject.
Questions were raised about anti social behaviour in Hockley, in particular the nuisance caused by members of one family. It was interesting to note that the Police appeared to be well aware of the situation and visited the family daily to "harrass" them, at the same time gathering evidence. The Hockley Councillor advised that an eviction order was imminent.
Parking issues also caused the temperature in the room to rise significantly, in particular selfish parking where pavements are partially blocked. The Police advised that they generally only got involved if the offender's parking was dangerous, the vehicle potentially blocking ambulance access or parking on a blind corner. Otherwise, it is usually a Council matter.
In Rochford, concerns were raised by the imminent departure of a popular PC, Stuart Goldsack, who has helped reduce incidents of anti social behaviour in the Square by positively engaging with the youngsters responsible. We were told that Stuart's replacement has already been appointed by a volunteer for the role, and we were assured he was of a similar calibre.
Moving away from Policing, Tracey Chapman, Essex County Council Head of Transport, responded to a question on pot holes. She explained that they are graded according to severity, the most serious gaining the most urgent attention whilst those causing the least problems may be left until their condition deteriorated to the next grade level.
Representatives from the PCTs had a fairly quiet night. Questions were raised about Southend Hospital's new electronic "check in" system and we were assured that improvements had already taken place plus more staff had been made available to offer help.
I asked about an increase in noise and pollution from Purdeys Industrial Estate. Litter covers the footpath from Watts Lane to Stambridge Mill, apparently straying over from Purdeys. The noise levels seem to have increased recently, from a number of sources. The Council's paid Chief Excutive, Paul Warren, said he would investigate.
No questions were asked about the Council's plans for the future - its core strategy, improvements (or changes depending on how you see it) to the Square, Southend Airport, etc. Still, there will be an opportunity at the next Forum in the New Year.
Finally, news of the forum was delivered to every household in the District through the "Rochford Matters" newspaper. Further, it has been highlighted on the Council's website. I found it to be a very interesting event, and something I understand the Council is not required to hold.
So sad then that only approx 12 residents turned up on the night.
Do we not care about our District?