On 1st November a community poll was held in the Pontypridd Town Council area on the question of whether the paddling pool in Ynysangharad Park should be retained as part of plans to redevelop the Lido
On a cold, wet, dark evening, with polls only open between 4pm and 9pm and no polling cards issued or postal votes allowed 2228 people turned out to vote. Of those 2077 voted to retain the paddling pool. Only 151 were against.
At a meeting of the full Council on 14th November the Labour group decided to completely ignore the results of that poll and, in the words of Deputy Leader Paul Cannon, "press on with our plans."
The following is a rough transcript of the "debate" if what transpired could be called that. Please note it is not a 100% verbatim record, as of course RCT Council will not allow meetings to be recorded, but it is as close as possible. The comments in brackets are mine, the Councillors referred to Labour unless otherwise indicated.
The Council leader Anthony Christopher was absent having been delayed at the hospital, so it was left to Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economic Development Paul Cannon to take the lead.
Following the introduction of the report by the Director of Legal & Democratic Services Cllr Cannon was asked to speak. He repeated much of what was in the press statement about how the funding would be lost if the paddling pool was retained, and stated that
This was a cynical publicity stunt by the Lib Dems. Pontypridd Town Council have confirmed that the poll cost £11,000 which will be added to the precept next year. Perhaps the people of Pontypridd will thank them (the Lib Dems) for that.
It is easy for others to try and make political capital but we have to take into account the wider regeneration issues. Amongst the 800 people we consulted the overall regeneration of Pontypridd was their over-riding concern.
I move we note the result of the poll and take no further action.
In the absence of Welsh Liberal Democrat Cllr Mike Powell who has been involved with the save the paddling pool campaign since 2008, Conservative Councillor Joel James agreed to read out a statement on behalf of the SOS Pontypridd Paddling Pool group.
(As we have said we are more than pleased to take the 'blame' for bringing this matter to the attention of the public and advising them on the poll, Guilty as charged your honour. But we never hid the cost. Democracy is not cheap - it is priceless.)
Amidst howls of objection from senior Labour Councillors the Mayor - Glyncoch's Doug Williams - ruled Cllr James out of order and not only refused to let him read the statement but also denied him the right to ask questions. When Cllr James later asked for the legal officer's view on why he had been denied the right to ask questions the Mayor arrogantly replied that it had been his decision and nothing to do with Standing Orders.
Next up Cllr Andrew Morgan, Mountain Ash West, Cabinet Member for Frontline Services.
His argument was based on the premise that less than 10% of people turned out to vote in this poll which means 90% of people wanted the Lido plans to go ahead without the paddling pool.
(Question - if only 37% of people turn out to vote in Council election and a Labour candidate wins are we to assume that 63% didn't want the Labour person to win? How ridiculous can you get?)
He went on to say
All the taxpayers of RCT will be paying towards the running of the Lido not just those in Pontypridd. They didn't get the chance to vote. If we keep the paddling pool we will have to subsidise it even more. This means that people from all over RCT will be subsidising a pool in Pontypridd.
The first Pontypridd based Councillor to speak was Teresa Bates of Hawthorn.
The people for Ponty have for years wanted to see a new Lido. I have spoken to lots of people who want the Lido to go ahead but who couldn't vote in this poll.
(Presumably those who would usually have postal / proxy votes which weren't allowed.)
Cllr John Watts of Ystrad & Gelli repeaed the mantra that it was a matter for all the people of RCT and asked "why weren't the people of Ystrad and Gelli allowed to vote."
(The legal officer failed to explain to him that the way in which the poll had to be conducted was laid down in the Local Government Act 1972 and amended by the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011. Perhaps he thought it was a rhetorical question and that Cllr Watts surely knew the answer. Maybe Cllr Watts would like to organise a poll in his ward.)
Cllr Geraint Hopkins, Llanharry
This should add value to the whole of RCT not just Ponty. People have called for the Lido redevelopment as long as I have been sat here.
It is typical of the actions of the opposition to take one small aspect of a project and criticize it. It is very sad that one aspect of this scheme is being used for other purposes - unfortunate but there it is.
(One small aspect? The people who want the paddling pool saved don't see it as a small aspect.)
Cllr Pauline Jarman, (Plaid) Mountain Ash moved an amendment that the Council shoud hold a public meeting so that everyone could air their views. It was voted down by Labour. She had earlier commented that
Democracy doesn't come cheap, and I didn't know there were 2077 Lib Dem supporters in Ponty. From what I understand this Council has never confided in the funding bodies that they wished to remove the paddling pool.
I was involved in the call in which was a sham, and I find it disappointing now that this Council is prepared to ignore the community poll.
Director of Regeneration Jane Cook said there had been several consultation events held where the intention to remove the paddling pool was included albeit with different options. She said they had been clear with funders about the scheme.
Cllr Joel James, (Conservative) Llantwit Fardre backed the amendment put forward to hold a public meeting.
I am disgusted at the allegations of this being a political stunt. After all it was a Labour manifesto commitment to keep the pool, then it wasn't, then it was, and now who knows.
He then tried to ask the questions he had been stopped from asking earlier but was again stopped by the Mayor,
Cllr Barrie Morgan of Cilfynydd
I am a member of Pontypridd Town council too. This poll cost £13 per vote cast. It affects the whole of RCT yet Ponty residents have to pay for it.
(2228 people voted. 13 times that is £28964. Now unless someone is telling real porkies it did not cost that. As Cllr Cannon quoted the cost was in the region of £11,000. Maths not a strong point for some.)
Cllr Tina Leyshon, Rhondda ward
I am speaking on behalf of those who haven't had a voice here, the under tens. They are our future and I am sure if we asked them whether they would prefer one paddling pool or three new indoor pools then they would go for the three.
(Why the under tens? Unless I misheard of course. Under 18s cannot vote. And has she paid any attention to anything - what indoor pools. If they were indoor pools then maybe people would be more inclined to accept that they should compromise. Are they really speaking to the same people we are? Actually are they on the same planet?)
Someone on the Labour benches then decided that had heard enough and needed to get home for dinner, so moved "that the question be put" which meant an end to debate.
Cllr Cannon wrapped it up abruptly
I have nothing more to add, I suggest we press on with our plans.
All Labour hands went into the air as required. The meeting moved on to the next item on the agenda.
The decision had been taken to ignore the people of Pontypridd