We live in a representative democracy by which I mean our MPs and councillors are elected to represent an area and are not elected as delegates for that area. A representative may makes promises to the electorate in a manifesto or election address but is not mandated to pursue a specific course of action.
A councillor has to address the needs of the council area as well as the interests of the electorate in his/her ward. This can lead to difficult decisions. The mark of a principled councillor is a willingness to run the gauntlet of the electorate and support a wider need rather than a narrow ward based interest.
That said, it is important councillors and councils seek to understand the opinions of the electorate before taking a decision, indeed seek the views of people on emerging plans and policies.
Two issues have arisen in Tunbridge Wells which illustrate how matters should not be approached by councils.
The first concerns a plot of land used as a recreation area.
The Council owns the land and is seeking planning permission to built residential accommodation on part of it. The locals are up in arms. One ward councillor claims to have known nothing about the proposal before the planning notice was issued. Surely the Council and councillors should have given residents the opportunity to debate the idea of building on this land? No community engagement whatsoever. Poor show.
The second issue is a decision taken to ban parking on pavements on six roads in Royal Tunbridge Wells. The owners of vehicles parked on pavements will receive a £70 fine. Members of the public have no right to dispute the introduction of the restrictions because it is an experimental traffic regulation order. This is disgraceful. There may well be good reasons for the parking ban, but there should have been consultation prior to the decision being taken.
One can but hope that the electorate will consider the cavalier attitude of the Council on both issues and think carefully as to where they place their 'X' at forthcoming elections. Councillors at times have to be brave and support proposals which are not in the interest of their electorate. Such councillors would secure my vote even if the decision was not one I supported, so long as they had consulted on it.