WITH over 75% of the electorate in the twelve affected areas responding to the Boundary Referendum and the results now in, that exercise in local democracy has been declared a success by most pundits.
But as Councillor John Dennis, Chair of the ‘Hands Off’ the East Riding campaign and Hedon Mayor describes in his review of the campaign, that turnout was only secured through the active and high-profile campaign waged by ‘Hands Off’ and its supporters.
Ominously, Cllr. Dennis believes that the matter doesn’t end with the referendum result, and residents need to be prepared for further moves by Hull City Council to make claim to land in the East Riding:
Referendum result – the campaigners’ perspective:
At last – the East Riding’s ‘Land-Grab’ Referendum has run its course, all votes are in and counted and what can I say – Job Done!!!! A 75% turnout, is way above expectations, and a massive 96% against the boundary changes says it all! What more could we have asked for?
So, what has it all been about? Well, the Hull City Council announced its latest expansionist plans in the Spring of this year. Without any reference to the East Riding, or any of the communities likely to be affected by their plans, they set up their Commission of Inquiry to look at various options as to how to increase their income from Government Funds, (and the minor detail of £50,000,000 per annum of our council tax), including the stretching of Hull’s boundaries outwards to the west and the east. East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) leader, Councillor Stephen Parnaby, was adamant his authority would not take any such threat lying down. The East Riding in Full Council unanimously voted to resist, and he announced the Council would be holding a public referendum to be conducted by post during the month of September, asking residents of the 12 potentially affected communities to vote on the matter.
Doing nothing was not an option as it would have played straight into Hull’s hands, indicating disinterest in protecting the East Riding, and showing weakness and lack of commitment to a fight, giving Hull all the encouragement it needed to push forward with its Land-Grab plans. I clearly recall we had similar challenges from Hull back in the 1990’s, and even further back in the ‘70’s and the East Riding didn’t lie down and roll over for either of those, so, again, here in 2014, action was called for.
The problem with any sort of formal ballot is one of public apathy. Remember the poll to elect the Police and Crime Commissioner back in 2012 resulted in a turnout of only 19%. It would have been disastrous for those East Yorkshire communities if that were to be repeated.
As the present Mayor of Hedon (the 668th in a very, very long line) and also a Ward Member of the East Riding Council, I was very concerned not to allow Hull to take us over, certainly not on my watch! During my election campaign back in 2011 I pledged to protect, preserve and promote the interests of the communities and the residents of the South West Holderness Ward, and here was my opportunity to do just that.
I therefore looked for support for a ‘Hands Off the East Riding’ campaign, and immediately signed up 30 or so like-minded people from across the region, not just Hedon, but from Preston and Bilton, and the other communities across at the west of Hull too. Our stated intention, from day one was twofold – firstly we must ensure the maximum ‘turnout’, and secondly to encourage as many voters as possible to say ‘No’ to the threat of uninvited, and unwanted boundary changes
It turned out to be a much bigger deal that I had ever anticipated, but the members were prepared to allow me to head the project and at our first group meeting they elected me Chair of ‘Hands Off’. The experience gained from the 8 years or so involvement in the HOTI Anti-Incinerator Group as Press Officer was going to be put to the test, and that was quite worrying to say the least.
It soon became clear just what a massive project this was going to be, but the supporters of the campaign were certainly up for it. Interestingly, members spanned the entire political spectrum; it wasn’t just a Conservative initiative. We had Ward, Town and Parish Councillors, and residents from the Labour Party, the Lib-Dems, a number of independents and even a UKIP member on board, and without any qualms, they set about the task and worked together tirelessly over the entire 3 months of the campaign.
Numerous planning meetings took place across in Hessle, all of which were attended by keen volunteers. Scores of mega-banners appeared on busy road junctions, garden fences, prominent buildings etc, and thousands of posters appeared in shops offices homes, and many other locations, all of which took a great deal of organising. Most importantly around 44,000 leaflets were delivered to all the households across the entire referendum area. We had a formal launch in late August and using old HOTI press contacts, I was able to attract loads of very positive publicity for the campaign. Radio and TV channels, and newspapers from across Yorkshire turned out. A successful public launch was absolutely essential if we were to get the campaign off the ground quickly.
In subsequent weeks campaigners spent many hours door-knocking, running street surgeries in market squares and village greens, and accosting people at supermarkets, community events and at school and factory gates and everywhere else where people congregate.
I take my hat off to the entire team for their time and the physical effort they put into the campaign, and of course the shoe leather they used up!
In a local context I would like to express my appreciation to our Holderness activists all for they did too. Well done and a thousand thanks to those members of the Hedon Town Council and Preston and Bilton Parish Councils too, who worked so hard and tirelessly over a three-month period to bang the drum in support of the referendum. Not forgetting of course the scores of other residents who gave up their time to deliver over 5,000 leaflets across our area alone.
Particular mention must be made of Councillor Moira Gittins, a recently elected member of Preston Parish Council. She was an absolute star. The village should be very proud of Moira! The energy and commitment she showed was exceptional. She was to be seen at all local community events in her ‘Hands Off’ T Shirt, and carrying her banner. You literally couldn’t go anywhere without bumping into her, not only in Preston, but across the entire area. Well done to her, and also to her son-in-law Adam Easton, a Leeds based graphical designer, who, without any cost to the group, produced the compelling ‘Hands Off’ and the ‘It’s a No-No!’ logos, as well as designing all of the campaign literature and banners. Very many thanks go to both of them for their unstinting support.
“Surely rather than asking those two questions in the referendum, Councillor Brady could have asked them of Stephen Parnaby before starting out. It would have saved a whole lot of effort and cost if a simple discussion had taken place first.”
Of course, all of this could have been avoided if Councillor Brady had opened discussions with Stephen Parnaby and the ERYC before embarking on his mission. It was an arrogant move not to do so and he is now having to count the cost. Of course an enormous amount of time and money has been spent by both councils, on creating the Commission and on launching the Referendum, and that is a great shame. That money could have been put to better use elsewhere, but what’s done is done. Surely rather than asking those two questions in the referendum, Cllr. Brady could have asked them of Stephen Parnaby before starting out. It would have saved a whole lot of effort and cost if a simple discussion had taken place first.
What happens next? That is the question most people are asking, and to be honest, that is entirely in the hands of the Hull City Council. Cllr. Brady started all this and has to decide how to proceed, if that’s what he wishes to do. He seems to be shuffling away from boundary change to more of a ‘joined-up working’ policy in TV and radio interviews recently. But isn’t that what has been happening for years. Hull and East Riding have joined forces with one another on such matters as strategic planning, as a joint waste authority etc, quite satisfactorily for many years now. Even the Siemens’ project would not, in my opinion be happening if it were not for the East Riding working hard to produce the Enterprise Zone land adjacent to the Saltend Chemical Park. Without that area of land, which is out here in Holderness, the City Council could not have produced sufficient space within the city for Siemens to build their support factories.
OK, so the referendum battle is won, and for now we can be very pleased with how it has turned out, but I don’t expect it to end there. The Commission of Inquiry still has its work to do, although the members must be feeling very uncomfortable now they have read about the depth of feeling out here in the East Riding.
We must be prepared for further moves from our acquisitive neighbour, Kingston Upon Hull. They’ll be back, and the communities of the East Riding may need to work together again sometime soon.