Walkway ‘walkout’ “appalling” says Sidmouth campaigner

Sidmouth Walkway campaigners ‘disgusted’ by town council treatment

A FORMER Sidmouth Citizen of the Year is “appalled” at the treatment he and a colleague received from Sidmouth town councillors on Monday.

Ten councillors walked out from their monthly meeting after refusing to listen to Freddy Wedderburn’s latest up-date on the Connaught Walkway project, describing it as ‘lobbying’.

After concerns from Councillors Simon Pollentine, John Hollick and Ann Liverton, the councillors, mostly district members too, left, leaving behind seven town councillors.

They declared a pecuniary interest because EDDC owns both Manor Road car park and Connaught Gardens, obliging them to leave.

However, says Mr Wedderburn, chairman of Sidmouth Millennium Walkway Group, who was accompanied by vice-chairman Brian Black, he had been invited by the town clerk to the meeting after writing to chairman Councillor Peter Sullivan in July asking for “the opportunity to address a future meeting of your council to explain how important changes in our new proposals will ensure a successful outcome for the project and be of great benefit to the community of Sidmouth.”

“I didn’t understand that we were going to have an address,” said Mr Pollentine. “I feel uncomfortable, having been told all my life not to be lobbied for planning applications we are entertaining. This, at the meeting, places us in an invidious position.”

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Mr Hollick, vice-chairman of planning, said councillors declaring an interest should leave.

“As a member of the Standards Committee, this is lobbying on a future planning application,” said Mrs Liverton.

“As a town councillor only, I think you should be extremely careful if you allow a presentation to go ahead and should say nothing, because it may prejudice feelings at a later meeting.”

When Mr Wedderburn tried to explain he was not lobbying the council for money and would withdraw, he was told he couldn’t speak.

Councillor Chris Wale, also a member of the Walkway Group, spoke on his behalf, saying to save embarrassment to councillors the two men would withdraw.

After the meeting they expressed their disgust at their treatment.

Mr Black said: “In view of the disgraceful behaviour of certain councillors at Monday’s meeting it is important to note that Freddy was not approached by anyone prior to our attendance, therefore Councillors Pollentine and Mrs Liverton could not have known what he was going to say.

They claim their humiliation did not end with the exodus, with councillors failing to make way on the stairs to let them leave.

“Indeed many deliberately averted their gaze and turned their heads away from us,” they said.

“What a thoroughly disgraceful and shameful display of discourtesy to invited guests to the meeting who were there to bring them up-to-date with the Connaught Walkway project.”

Mr Wedderburn added: “I am quite appalled. If they didn’t want us to address the council why didn’t they tell us before the meeting?

He added: “I was taken aside by the chairman before the meeting who asked if I was going to talk about money and I said ‘no, it is just a progress report’.”

Mr Sullivan had not responded to questions before the Sidmouth Herald went to press, but later confirmed Mr Wedderburn had been asked to the meeting.

Mrs Liverton said: “The agenda item was ambiguous and many of us read it that we were going to discuss whether a presentation was appropriate, not that it had already been agreed (by the chairman and clerk apparently) that they should be able to proceed at that meeting.”

She thought it best to hold a meeting between the Walkway Group, EDDC and Devon County Council before trying to get town council backing.