LYME Regis and Charmouth’s new Dorset councillor Belinda Bawden was finally able to make her maiden speech in County Hall last week.
Cllr Bawden, a member of the Green Party, was elected to represent Lyme Regis and Charmouth at Dorset Council in April, taking over from Conservative Daryl Turner.
She was hoping to make her maiden speech at last month’s full council meeting, but the debate was cut short after environmental protestors interrupted the meeting and tried to glue themselves to a table.
Following the disruption, councillors were moved from the council chamber into an adjoining room.
Council leader Spencer Flower’s proposition – to “urge the government to introduce an energy policy with the principal objective of securing permanent UK energy self-sufficiency from as early a date as possible, utilising whatever forms of energy generation sourced from within the UK are necessary to this end” – was then put to the vote with no further discussion.
Opponents said this could give free reign for fossil fuel extraction or nuclear power in Dorset.
Cllr Bawden was able to give her prepared speech at this month’s full council meeting, where extra security measures were put in place to avoid similar disruption as climate protestors gathered outside.
She said: “Thank you for letting me speak this time, chairman. I was extremely disappointed that I was prevented from doing so at my first Dorset Council meeting on April 14, since I had not only wanted to oppose the contradictory motion which undermined the council’s own Climate & Ecological Strategy, the government’s Net Zero targets and COP26 pledges as well as the stark warnings from the IPCC the previous week, but also to pay tribute to my predecessor, Daryl Turner.
“Daryl had represented the people of Lyme Regis and Charmouth with diligence, loyalty and pride for many years as a town, district and county councillor before joining the new Dorset Council in 2019.
“More recently, however, he had expressed misgivings about the lack of urgency shown by Dorset Council on the climate and ecological crisis and the wasted opportunities caused by the majority party’s seeming inability to listen to all elected members’ voices.
“Daryl would therefore have been as horrified as I was had he witnessed the refusal of the chairman to allow a debate on the contentious motion proposing increased energy self-reliance ‘by all means available to us’, particularly in the week after nearly 44% of those who voted for his successor had clearly shown their desire for more action on the climate crisis.
‘The democratic process is failing’
“Young people, in particular, are driving the need for change but every generation is really concerned about the future and demand a far better response from those elected to represent them than to go backwards by advocating increased use of fossil fuels.
“It was Cllr O’Leary’s statement to second the motion urging the increased use of coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy, which sparked the peaceful protest by two grandmothers fearing for their families future. Who can blame them?
“When elected representatives fail to listen to public opinion, to young people, to scientific and expert opinion, to the government and all its expert advisers, to the IPCC and to the voters in Lyme Regis and Charmouth less than a week earlier, the democratic process is failing.
“The democratic process in Dorset Council then failed us all further when the chairman refused any discussion on the contradictory, contentious and utterly pointless motion once the meeting had been reconvened.
“I therefore oppose the motion to condemn the behaviour of those who disrupted the meeting and instead condemn the majority party’s refusal to listen to reasoned debate from other elected members and ultimately to the residents of Dorset, in particular to those supporting more action on the climate crisis from Lyme Regis and Charmouth.”
Councillors voted 47 to 21, with five abstentions, to condemn the actions of the two protestors, known as ‘Grannies for the Future’.
Conservative councillor ‘disgusted’ by environmental protestors
Protestors gathered outside County Hall for the May meeting were described as a “rabble” by one Conservative councillor.
The campaigners gathered to protest against what they consider to be hypocrisy from Dorset Council, which has declared an climate and ecological emergency but continues pension fund investments in fossil fuels, has proposed an oil well near Puddletown, and 4,000 homes north of Dorchester in its draft Local Plan.
Trevor Bevins, who covers Dorset Council meetings for the BBC funded Local Democracy Reporting Service, said: “Among the protestors were a group of Christians concerned about the future of the planet, Churches Together. Most there were in their 60s – some even older – including many professional people, expressing concerns for the future of their children and grandchildren in a peaceful way.
“A handful were drumming – not an illegal activity, although it could clearly be heard within the council chamber.
“Earlier, opposition councillors, Lib Dems, Labour and Green, chatted amicably with the protestors as they arrived at County Hall for the evening meeting.
“No Conservatives were seen to stop, most, head down simply walked briskly past the three police officers and five security staff into the building.
“In the first time of reporting democracy from the County Hall building since 1978 I was man-handled by a security officer and prevented from entering as I tried to get into the chamber to do my job – until a Conservative councillor told him to leave me alone.
“At 66 and with camera and notebook in hard it’s hard to see how I represented a threat which required that I be grabbed and held.”
Commenting on the protest from within the council chamber, Conservative Carole Jones said: “I’m just disgusted at some of the people we represent, quite frankly… I’m distressed to hear that rabble outside… we’re not here for that.”
Her comments were met with a round of applause and cries of “hear hear” from the Conservative group.
By Francesca Evans and Local Democracy Reporter Trevor Bevins