31 March 2017

Sundials and Democracy

First two warnings. There are people who will be upset by the contents of this blog. No personal offence is intended however, when the local democratic process and possibly planning laws are being circumvented then someone needs to speak out. A debate is needed. People need to be informed about decisions that are being made behind their back by a small number of people who belong to several local groups, in my words a cabal, about a much loved local green space and then to be allowed their say. Secondly, this is dry, very dry. Sit down with a drink whilst reading!

We can all agree that The Rotary Club of Aldridge working with Aldridge Croft Community Group, Aldridge Village Partnership and Walsall Council have brought about some lovely improvements to the environment of our 'village' centre. The Peace Garden by the Elms Island, the lovely improvements made to the Croft a couple of years ago and the Ellie (Simmonds) Sculpture have enhanced the village. The Aldridge Volunteer  Gardeners are out there in all weathers creating beautiful floral displays through the village and I cannot applaud them enough. They have brought honours in the forms of various awards over the last few years and long may they continue.

Alas, a proposal brought forward by the Rotary Club working with Aldridge Croft Community Group to install two sundials on what they call 'the crofts' (there is only one croft but the grass adjacent to the war memorial outside the church is being referred to as the 'little croft' by them, not a name that may be familiar to many) is probably not something you may not have heard about, let alone been able to express a view about and I believe, brings into disrepute the local democratic process. There appears to be a local cabal that is involved with all the local groups in Aldridge, that feel they are empowered to make decisions that affect the wider community and the village environment without reference to the community at large. Their intentions may be for the local good but the avoidance of true consultation and the democratic process means their intentions are meaningless.

The story begins nearly two years ago now. A proposal for the sundials project was put to a meeting of Aldridge Village Partnership by The Rotary Club. This proposal was never put to the vote but apparently was 'widely approved'. I take issue with this. How can something be widely approved if it hasn't been voted upon and has not been brought to the attention of the general population of Aldridge? The correct way for discussing changes to common and public areas of our village and in particular the Conservation Area around The Croft is to put it out to WIDE consultation through various methods including VISIBLE displays within the shopping centre, a display in the local library of several weeks and wide advertising of those events through local newspapers and social media. This is not an all encompassing list because there are other ways to consult with the people who live in Aldridge but you get the general idea.

Without wide consultation at any level and without discussion with the people of Aldridge about how money of the magnitude granted could be used to better the environment say for our young people, an application was made to the Tesco Bags of Help community grant scheme (this is where  your 5 pence for plastic carrier bags goes to) by the Aldridge Croft Community Group and they were granted £10,000, yes ten thousand pounds, for a proposed project for which no consultation had been carried out!

This is where the steam rollering begins in earnest. A small stall was set out in the shopping centre one Saturday last month to 'consult'. It must have been small and hidden because I went into the Village that grey and rainy day specifically to make my opinions known. I didn't see it. Following that there was a few weeks of non-publicised 'consultation' in the library where people were invited to make comments about the scheme. I am told the majority of comments were against the project however there is no proof either way because the evidence remains the property of one person.

So what is this project? Here's a leaflet:
Their plans seem to be changing and it is now believed that the first sundial will be located adjacent to the Children's Playground on The Croft and will be in situ by June this year. The information about that in their own words is as follows:

It is proposed that the Sundial be located to the side of the existing pathway that connects the Children’s Play Area to Little Aston Rd. This is in an area where some very old and diseased trees were removed and where the feature Tree Sculptures have been added.

We will use pavers, together with local red clay brick for the special features. These will include a selection of brickwork imprinted with verse, dates of significant conflicts and two sculpted brickwork features, set in the ground.

A white Peace Post will display words of Remembrance.

Single-leg information Lecterns will include Remembrance Poetry from local schools, information on the purpose of the sundial and acknowledgement of the sponsors.
The Peace Post and the Lecterns will be the only features that will be above ground level."

By June 2017? What has happened to Planning Permission? Surely changes to be made to what is a Common within a Conservation Area should be subject to planning permission? When a direct question about planning permission was asked at a recent Aldridge Village Partnership meeting of Bob Cooke, who is the sundial project coordinator, replied that no planning permission is needed. Really? The local planning department when asked the same question by at least two different people, replied that planning permission was most definitely needed.

So you may ask, why is planning permission so important. Under circumstances such as this where a scheme has been dreamed up, funding obtained and plans put in place for implementation with only lip service paid towards any consultation and discussion as to whether an enormous sum from a community charity should be used for such a scheme, it is the only avenue open for the general public to actually view the plans, consider the plans, to ask questions and to consider do we really need and want this. Apparently if anyone does have any questions, comments etc then they can contact Bob Cooke. Who is Bob Cooke I ask myself and how is he accountable to the local community. Point is he isn't. At least if a planning application is made and considered our local councillors and the planning committee can take into account the views of their constituents and be held accountable at the ballot box for any decisions made.

If you lead people to believe that the powers that be have already been consulted and that permission has been granted then just like in the George Orwell novel 1984, it becomes the truth. A search on the council web site for any such planning applications produces a big fat zero. That is the truth.

Do we need two sundials? They are apparently inspired by the analemmatic sundial located at The National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas. Aldridge is not Alrewas, nor a destination for those who wish to remember. It remembers its own in its own way. Aldridge already has a beautiful war memorial adjacent to the Parish Church, that is cherished by the local community and is the scene every year of an extremely well attended memorial service by both young and old. The young in particular are conspicuous in their presence because there are so many of them from various different groups. The local schools in the area have always held events for their students to inform of the role of local men in world wide conflict, I know because I have two children that have gone through the education system in Aldridge at different schools. Even Year One pupils are led to the memorial each year to begin the process of learning to pay your respects for those who have walked before them.

Alas the local services held each year may possibly be under threat but the memorial will still be there inscribed with the names of those young people from Aldridge who served and died. Many do not keep their visits to just a November Sunday. I go regularly as I do to the Commonwealth War Graves in the cemetery. I am not the only one and groups of school children can often be seen with their teachers taking something new from their surroundings. History projects abound, researching individual names on the memorial, the children learning that these young people had families who loved them just as they do.

I show you my card here. I personally see no need for sundials around the village centre. The children and young people of our community already learn and are educated about remembrance. They don't need something else to prompt them such as plastic poppies, bricks and posts. The older people don't need them either. There are benches there right by the memorial where weary legs can be rested and thoughts allowed to formulate. I don't need to see the grass right behind the memorial scarred by an unnecessary and totally inappropriate sundial. The clean run of grass gives a perfect setting to see the memorial in all its glory. Placing obstacles before it will merely obscure the present majesty.

Furthermore I do not wish more of the green space of the Croft, our village common, taken up by something that is so unnecessary. Let us spend that money obtained under what I believe are false pretences because there was no consultation with local people prior to asking for the money for a proposed project, on something that the young people of Aldridge really need. Consultation really should be carried out before a project seeks funding and not afterwards or even at all!

Let us close the gate on the local cabal horse race that gallops rapidly on making decisions about the future of the village with no meaningful consultation and a complete disregard for democracy. Let us also insist that no work is started on any project until it has been properly debated and discussed at all levels. Let the voices of Aldridge be heard. You don't have to agree with my point of view about the sundials. I just want everyone to be allowed their say.


  1. I totally agree with you Linda, the money could be better spent elsewhere and any development of those green spaces would be detrimental to Aldridge.

  2. Strikes me someone spent too long in the sun. Aldridge could use many things but a Sundial.... and then another Sundial. Will there even be enough sun for the both of them?

  3. Adrian Fletcher1 April 2017 at 20:29

    Thank you for bringing this to light. In my opinion an open space cannot, by definition, be improved upon by the building of various features even when the sentiment seems worthy.

  4. Hmm, yes, is Bob Cook the same Robert Cook who proposed a few years back building a Church 'Social Centre' over the old graveyard adjacent to the St Mary's? Reading your blog I think the 'sundial' project has his 'I will be obeyed' fingerprints all over it. He will take some stopping - good luck.

    1. I don't think that they are the same person.

  5. Unfortunately there has always, in my opinion, been a group of "elite" (at least in their minds) who wish to dictate and manipulate to whatever their ends may be.

    Might be good to find-out who is going to build these "developments" and how they got the contract.

    As far as developing the croft - WHY? It has always been a park-like open area to be enjoyed by locals as such. It is not a memorial ground or a place for a local statement.

    What a, no what 2, wastes of money!!

  6. It is so disheartening to see so many negative comments towards the few people who actually go out of there way to try to enhance Aldridge.
    I cannot praise Bob Cooke enough for his efforts and all the time he has given for our community, he is one of few who is actually hands on and not just "all talk" about how to improve our village.
    It's this kind of negativity that prevents good natured people from trying and giving up their free time to try to make the world a better place, everyone may not be in agreement with the project but there is no need for this kind of personal negativity towards people who actually work hard and are good natured!

  7. Firstly as you have so kindly pointed out the local Coommunity have enhanced Aldridge continuously applying for grants and funding for these projects. Money is not just handed out unless an idea is put forward? All these improvements in Aldridge are greatly welcomed in my opinion.
    Has the blogger ever come up with a new idea to improve Aldridge? Has she taken the time to apply for funding to follow up a idea from start to finish?
    As for the attack on Mr Robert Cooke the lady is entitled to view her opinion about the project not her ramblings about the gentleman.
    I am a mother with two young children and welcome any new ideas to enhance the Croft. Bob Cooke keep up the good work as the improvements to the Croft have been fantastic ie the benches, picnic tables, new path ways, flower beds and now the Sundial!

  8. Nothing personal at all Laura. I say so right at the beginning of the blog. I don't know the man so could not make personal comments. Read what I have written carefully. I do not criticise the man, I criticise the lack of democracy and accountability in decision making by a small group of people who believe that they know what people want. Unfortunately Bob is the person in charge of the project and therefore has to take some responsibility for this but it is most certainly not personal. I work hard and am good natured too but I believe that when changes are proposed for lands that are held in common in a conservation area, the public at large should be consulted. Thank you for your comment.

  9. There is not attack on Bob Cooke, Clara. I have just pointed out that he and a small number of other people who are members of all the groups involved with this and who are not accountable to the local community for any decisions they make, are running the show and no account is being taken of the views of the wider community. The groups to which you refer about having taken decisions, haven't actually taken decisions; a small group of people have taken decisions. If you cannot see how this flies in the face of local decision making, planning laws and the local democratic process, then I cannot help you. We live in a democracy, not a dictatorship.
    This is not personal.
    Anyone who knows me knows that I do my best for the local community and one of the ways to demonstrate this, is this blog! I generally do my bit for an area slightly larger than Aldridge, the borough of Walsall for example. I successfully ran a campaign a few years ago called Save Walsall's Greenspaces. At the time the devastating cuts that were proposed by Council were themselves cut and there was a stay of execution by neglect for the greenspaces of the borough.
    Furthermore I campaigned about how WM Police handle their attendance at road vehicle collisions with regards to pedestrians and cyclists. As a result of my campaign WM Police changed their policy and as such pedestrians and cyclists are now catered for properly and not on a ad hoc basis.
    I also do my bit for local charities and as I say anyone that knows me or my online presence can vouch for that. The point is though, I do not make decisions that change the face of an area. I am an individual. I am accountable to the law of the land as that individual but I because I do not make decisions that directly affect others, I am not accountable to you or anyone else! Mr Cooke is making decisions with his small group of people about how our village should look and therefore needs to be accountable. He is not and so there has to be a wider input and the laws with regard to planning have to be adhered to. This means that the local council need to be properly involved with this.
    It doesn't matter how good the intentions are, the road to hell is paved with them. Proper accountability is required. Proper consultation is required. A discussion, wide and open needs to be had. That is all I ask.

    1. So just to confirm you have not been involved in any projects in Aldridge from start to finish? Just blog about Aldridge?

    2. Depends upon what you mean. I don't have to justify myself and what I am involved in at a local level to you, nor confirm anything, as I am not making decisions on your behalf. I don't 'just' blog about Aldridge!
      This is about raising awareness. Democracy. Accountability. If you and a small group make decisions about something that affects the wider community, you have to be accountable.
      The problem with an oligarchy is that those running it don't like it when someone starts to question their actions!

    3. I appreciate your point. This has not been a secret project it has been discussed at many Aldridge Village Partnership meetings for months. Which any members of the public are welcome anytime and of which I am a Director. I personally think you are the minority and look forward to seeing this project going forward which it will.

    4. Perhaps you should advertise the meetings more widely and then ordinary people might consider attendance.
      Thank you for finally declaring your interest.
      If the project goes ahead I do hope it is with planning permission which, I understand from a telephone conversation with Planning a while ago now, it does need. At least if a planning application goes in, then the proposal can be discussed properly and not just amongst you, your co-directors and other members of the oligarchy!
      What I think of the project is immaterial in the great scheme of things. The point of the blog was to raise awareness, which judging by the number of unique hits, it has done and to ensure that democracy was restored to decision making in Aldridge.
      I have no problem with the outstanding work that has been carried out in Aldridge in recent times and have said so both in this blog and elsewhere. Sometimes however, a little bit of reality needs to be brought in. Not everyone agrees.

  10. Who is Bob Cooke? A gentleman who has come up with an idea applied for a grant and been awarded the Money! Who is Linda Mason? A negative vindictive woman who thinks she can speak on behalf of Aldridge! bob Cooke has involved so many people who thought it was a wonderful idea,You say children don't need this elderly people don't need this you are 1 person! My children will enjoy it. Get off your high horse and be constructive!! Get off your pointless blog raise some money and spend it how you please. I have seen many people for this project. If it doesn't go ahead the money can't just be transferred over to something else! Can I remind you of the Rotary club of Aldridge other wonderful projects ellie tribute, garden of reflection, benches and history trial, hopefully these aren't so offensive to you. All of the above successful campaigns backed by the public enjoyed daily

    1. Dear Anon :-) I am being constructive. I am asking that everyone be allowed a say. I am asking that planning laws be obeyed. Is that negative? No.
      The definition of vindictive is "having or showing a strong or unreasoning desire for revenge". Not applicable! If you are going to anonymously take a pop at me, at least use the right words.
      As to who I am, I am not anon, anyone can look me up and see who I am.
      If you had read the blog properly you will have noticed that I do pay proper tribute to the work done by the groups of Aldridge. If you had read anymore of my blog and also my photo blog, you will see that I blow the trumpet for Aldridge and Walsall on a regular and enthusiastic basis.
      I did wonder how long it would be for the anonymous trolls to come out and play. Wasn't long!

  11. Linda I will say very little at this time other than to say you have my 100% support.

  12. Walsall Council chair the meetings so I can assure you they are fully aware of the project and plans. Thank you for taking the time to call them!

    1. No need to be sarcastic. My call to planning was to ascertain whether planning permission was required. This was after a thorough search of the planning applications to ascertain if planning permission had been applied for.
      Why do Walsall Council chair a meeting of a limited company albeit a non trading company?
      I appreciate that the council provide the bulk of AVPs funds but the council do not run the company.......
      How do you expect the general public to distinguish who is doing what for whom and how?

    2. Do you have the planning application reference no.?

    3. I don't, Len. I hadn't found an application. Has one now been made?

    4. Clara, perhaps you could let us have the full details please. Thank you

  13. Sorry Linda I was asking Clara Appiah she seems to know what's going on.

    1. Thanks for the clarification Len! Perhaps Clara can shed some light on exactly what is happening. I'll ask her.

  14. As you continue to call us members of the oligarchy (which I find offensive) I will leave a final note. We have had a partnership for 5 years as I say all welcome, with out this group Aldridge would not have become the wonderful place it is! The projects have been funded by grants, charities and local business. So I would just like you to think for just one minute the amount of good work we have achieved rather than attack one project you might not agree with.

    1. How can all be welcome at the meetings of a limited company?
      I have already acknowledged the good work that has been done.
      Perhaps you could answer my questions please?
      You know what is going on. You know if planning permission has been applied for or not. You know of the decisions made.
      You may find the use of the word oligarchy offensive. I find the lack of attention to accountability and democracy, plus the lack of answers to questions raised, offensive. I also find it questionable that you call my personal opinion an attack. The use of the words oligarchy and cabal seem entirely appropriate when one is accused of attack purely for expressing a dislike for something that has been proposed by those who consider they know best!
      This is my blog. I don't have to publish comments I don't like but I do because I am attempting to demonstrate the workings of democracy!

    2. Interesting stuff Linda. Looking on the Companies House website they are now an active company, although that certainly was not the case a few weeks ago, indeed their last returns showed them as a dormant company with zero assets or liabilities. As you rightly point out, how does one get invited to the meetings of a private limited company and where are they advertised?
      This whole project seems to have been driven by a select group of people with scant regard for planning laws or democracy as a whole. Last time I checked the definition of democracy was not "Seven people sitting round a table deciding what is best for an entire village".

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  16. John Morris who works for Walsall council and will certainly be intimately familiar with all issues about Aldridge including specific details like planning for any project.

  17. I have only just found out about this and don't know of any meetings to go to to have my say Where are the meetings advertised?

    Also if someone would like to do something for Aldridge how about improving The Croft children's park facilities There is nothing there for access for disabled children The nearest parks I have to travel to are Little Aston (has a lovely basket swing) or Sutton park (disabled seat swing and basket swing and ramp to slide)

    Why has no one noticed that the children's park has not changed over the years. I've contacted the council and they told me it would change. I'm still waiting!!!

    1. Access for disabled children, now that is something worth spending 10k on, but a sundial? Oh please.

  18. Only shareholders and directors are entitled to attend meetings of the limited company - Aldridge Village Partnership however, I understand that there are some meetings that the community can attend but I've never seen them advertised and I have no idea who actually chairs the meetings, who attends and how one can get sight of the minutes.
    As to the other meetings in Aldridge such as Aldridge Croft Community Group, well I've never seen any meeting advertised but that doesn't mean they haven't been. I'll try and find out for you if you would like me to.
    There is also the Aldridge and Beacon Area Panel, which comprises of councillors from the area. This is where decisions regarding local problems and spending are made. It has to be said that for Aldridge, some of the money is handed over to the Partnership who use it to fund events etc in Aldridge. In theory these meetings are 'advertised' on the council web site but you have to be dedicated to find it! The last meeting was 3 April 2017 according to the council web site and I can find no details of future meetings at this time. See this link https://cmispublic.walsall.gov.uk/cmis/Meetings/tabid/70/ctl/ViewMeetingPublic/mid/397/Meeting/2419/Committee/339/Default.aspx
    Taking into account your other points it would be worthwhile looking through the Area Panel Funding Report to see what sort of projects are funded. You may find a browse thought earlier reports and minutes helpful too.
    Anyone is entitled to attend an area panel meeting, I've attended a few over the years although funnily enough not for Aldridge. I found the councillors and also the officers who attended to be considerate and helpful.
    I think for you, approaching your local councillors would be a good first port of call.
    I hope that this response is helpful to you. Please feel free to contact me again if I can assist in any way.

  19. Thank you Linda Most helpful. I've currently taken over as Chair of FACE the Parent Carer forum of Walsall I've met with different people over the years from the council including those from green spaces and even sent photos in from other parks I'd collected over the years including a photo of a fantastic photo of a see saw that takes into account different people's weight but all to no avail. Problem is staff swap about so frequently nothing ever seems to get passed on

  20. I live in Aldridge & first I saw about this was in tesco when they were hoping for the money off the carrier bags. Not seen anything else where. Admittedly I don't have the local paper but seen or heard nothing till tesco funding.