Posted: 23.06.21 at 17:47 by Jack Lenton
Local communities were not consulted on the locations of community orchards being planted as part of a £10,000 district council scheme, several councillors have claimed.
The claim was made as part of a call-in of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council's decision to plant a total of 30 community orchards across the Moorlands, with five sites each to be planted in Biddulph, Cheadle and Leek and a further 15 across the parishes.
However, the decision was called in by eight councillors, who felt that communities had been left in the dark about the plans to install the orchards, saying in their call-in request: "There is no evidence that communities in which the initial orchards were placed have been consulted in their positioning."
Those in charge of the scheme have defended the way the decisions were made, saying they were "disappointed" that those who called in the decision saw it as "party political".
The call-in was discussed at a meeting of the council's Resources Overview & Scrutiny Panel held this morning (Wednesday).
Labour's Cllr Bill Cawley, who represents Leek West, felt the public had been blindfolded when it came to being informed of the orchards.
He said: "This should not be reduced to a vehicle for one party or individual to seek advancement. This decision falls well short of our principles of openness and engagement.
"I am sure that councillors will agree that people are not meant to be ignorant bystanders. The public cannot keep a watchful eye if they are wearing blindfolds."
Fellow Labour Cllr Charlotte Atkins, representing Leek South, felt that the scheme was lacking in its aims of reducing carbon emissions, two years after the council declared a climate emergency.
She said: "This initiative lacks imagination and scope for real transformation. The cabinet member (Cllr Joe Porter) should be showing some leadership and pointing the way towards meaningful reduction in carbon emissions, rather than just offsetting them with tree planting.
"I have to question where community involvement fits in this, because there appears to have been very little in this process."
However, Conservative Cllr Joe Porter, who is the Cabinet member for Climate Change and represents the Brown Edge and Endon ward, said that communities were in fact consulted, but added that Coronavirus restrictions meant these consultations were "more limited" than he would have preferred.
He said: "The reason we put together this project was because community orchards are a fantastic way to bring communities together and tackle climate change.
"I am very disappointed that the opposition aren't being positive about this because I don't see it as party political.
"In the pilot scheme, Coronavirus restrictions meant we were restricted in how much we could consult the public. We did consult the public on it, although it was more limited that I would've preferred.
"Going forward we want to work with parish councils and community groups to make this work, and we eventually want 100 orchards across the district and make a difference in the Moorlands. If you want to put forward a site please do contact me."
Independent Cllr John Jones, who represents Biddulph Moor, said Biddulph had been consulted on the plans and could not see a reason for communities to complain about the orchards.
He said: "Whether cabinet members can do more will always be targeted, but there is no doubt that this is an extremely worth project and we shouldn't be knocking it.
"You can't say we weren't consulted in Biddulph because the sites were debated at some length.
"I can understand why some people might be concerned when an orchard just turns up, but complaining about it is like complaining when someone gives you an unexpected box of chocolates."
But Labour Cllr Kevin Jackson, of the Biddulph East ward, disagreed, saying: "If you're diabetic a gift of a box of chocolates is not necessarily a good thing.
"An orchard might be nice if you're in favour of it, but if you're against it then you should really be consulted before.
"Going forward I think portfolio holders need to think about how things are done and not bulldoze their way through as this appears to have been done."
A vote was taken, with councillors voting to continue with the community orchards scheme in the same way as it has previously been carried out.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Cllr John Jones was a Conservative and Independent councillor at Staffordshire Moorlands District Council. He is in fact an Independent councillor in the Conservative and Independent political group at the council. We apologise for any confusion caused.
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