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West Berkshire Council public question review following football and estate 'concern'

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Council leader says questions are drain on resources

PUBLIC scrutiny of West Berkshire Council is being reviewed following concern over questions relating to the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE), the Faraday Road football ground and playing pitches.

The narrow range of the questions is also proving a burden on council resources, its leader said.

The public can ask questions to the council’s executive, which must be submitted eight days before the meeting, and answers are read by councillors in a 30-minute slot.

A supplementary question can also be asked.

But speaking at an executive meeting on February 11, council leader Lynne Doherty said the manner in which public questions were submitted at meetings was not working.

Mrs Doherty said she had asked for the process to be reviewed and that Facebook events attracted more engagement on wider topics.

She said this was in stark contrast to the executive where only 21 people had submitted questions in the last year.

Nearly half of the questions submitted came from six people, with 27 questions coming from just two people.

Mrs Doherty added: “I’m personally disappointed to say that during the year where we have been responding to a global pandemic, while still delivering a council strategy we know is important to our residents, of the 202 public questions received since last February – 85 referred to either LRIE, the football ground or playing pitches.

“The range, and breadth, of the questions is a concern and unfortunately does not involve everyone on topical and important issues such as Covid, recovery, adult social care, or reach across a geographical district to pick up those in the east, west and the surrounding villages.

“Not only do the questions asked have such a small breadth of topic, but it should be noted that the manner in which questions are submitted at the moment creates an administrative burden on the officers dealing with them.

“It therefore uses up valuable public resource at a time when our resources are already stretched to the limit delivering support to residents during Covid and continuing our business as usual services.”

The bulk of the questions have come from members of the Newbury Community Football Group (NCFG), who have been challenging the counciil’s decision to not reopen the Faraday Road ground.

Newbury FC were evicted from the ground in 2018 in preparation for the LRIE regeneration, but a legal challenge stopped the project.

The LRIE scheme has cost £1.3m and work is not expected to start for three years.

NCFG chairman Paul Morgan said the council should welcome scrutiny and not spend time and resources trying to avoid it.

He said: “The whole subject and mismanagement of LRIE and the football ground remains a major embarrassment to the council and this is evident as the council leader Lynne Doherty blasted members of the public at the last executive meeting for asking the ‘wrong questions’ at the monthly 30-minute public questions slot.”

Lee McDougall from NCFG said that public questions were “one of the few remaining options” for the group to scrutinise the council.

“It’s not for the executive to decide what public questions are the right ones,” he added.

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