Questions are being asked about the transparency of Stroud District Council’s voting procedures during public meetings.

Confusion arose among residents who attended its development control committee meeting on June 12 during which its members voted against the Forest Green Rovers stadium proposal. 

An electronic system was used which allowed councillors to vote in secret.
Subsequently ascertaining how members voted resulted in this newspaper’s incorrect reporting, for which we have apologised.

In response to the concerns, an SDC spokesman said: “A lot of councils use an electronic system to record votes, mainly because they provide certainty and the most accurate way of recording the result of a vote.” 

Cllr John Jones (Con, Severn), went further in defending the system saying it was ‘designed to give committee members anonymous defence of their actions’.
Yet the stadium’s proposer, Dale Vince said: “It seems the people that did vote against are afraid to admit it. 

“They should explain themselves.”

He is supported by Julie Shirley, clerk of Eastington Parish Council, who added:

“We’ve been trying to work out who voted which way. 

“It’s a question people want to know.”

Development control committee member Haydn Jones admitted the system was ‘unusual’.

“We always used to have a show of hands and I don’t know why it has changed,” he said. 

Cllr Martin Baxendale, chairman of the DCC was quick to apologise.

"Having recently taken over as chair, I became concerned about the lack of transparency in the voting system and raised this with the Green Party councillors’ group leader immediately after the FGR stadium application meeting," he said.

"I can see no reason why the electronic voting system should not be set up to show which way individual committee members vote on an application, and as a Green Party councillor I am always pushing for more public transparency," he added.

Cllr Baxendale also said he will ensure that for future planning votes, the electronic voting system will be set up to show which councillors voted and how they voted.

He also added that he will "take on board" a suggestion by this reporter to explain more fully to public attendees what is happening at each stage of the planning meetings he oversees.

"More could be done by chairs to ensure that the public fully understand what is happening when it comes to the procedure of such meetings," he continued.

"We are governed by legislation and national guidance which dictates how we have to approach the issues before the committee," he said.

"In the past we have tended to concentrate on that rather than our communication with public attendees."

Another communications issue which has arisen concerns the loop hearing system.

Eastington parish councillor Edwin Davies said it was turned off, although he was told it was working.

Cllr Davies, who depends on two hearing aids, could not hear what was being said. 

“I was assured that the loop system was switched on. In the event it was not. I was told that nothing else could be done,” he said.

“Cllr Marjoram was wearing headphones, which suggests that they are aware of an issue.

“SDC has a responsibility under the Equality Act 2010 to accommodate listeners with a hearing disability. 

“Communicating with the public must be one of their key aims.”

In the interests of transparency, the SNJ asked SDC to clarify how committee members voted. 

AGAINST the stadium (six)

Cllr Dorcas Binns (Con)
Cllr Miranda Clifton (Labour)
Cllr Haydn Jones (Con)
Cllr Mark Reeves (Con)
Cllr Jessica Tomblin (Con)
Cllr Nigel Cooper (Con)

FOR the stadium (five)

Cllr Martin Baxendale (Chairman/Green)
Cllr John Marjoram (Green)
Cllr Jenny Miles (Labour)
Cllr Tom Williams (Labour)
Cllr Steve Lydon (Labour)

Cllr Sue Reed (Independent)