Sunday, 10 August 2014

Green Wars

Whilst researching nineteenth century Felsham I have been very dependent on the reports to be found in local newspapers, such as the Bury & Norwich Post, which can be accessed through Suffolk Libraries online. Using this facility, fascinating bits of village history are reported which do not appear in any other local records.  A good example is the report of the violent disturbances on Upper Green in 1885 during an election rally.  Even today village politics only makes the headlines when something unusual or illegal occurs such as that at Wyverstone in July 2014: "Explosives found among huge arms' haul on parish council chairman's property."

I often wonder what resources local historians of the future will use to describe events occurring today.  Perhaps the archives collected by the Local History Recorder will be of immense value here because this person is tasked with seeing that the present is adequately recorded at local level.  But as the post is currently vacant the interesting events of the last few months in Felsham may well go unrecorded.  I am thinking here of the controversy amounting to a "cause celebre" that surrounded the 'experimental nature reserve' on Lower Green. This began with a resolution, accepted by the Parish Council in May 2013, that a revised maintenance regime should be adopted for Lower Green for an initial trial period of one year.  A year later, after much local acrimony and the resignation of the Parish Clerk, the experiment was abandoned.

OS Map showing Lower Green c. 1900
Over the months villagers rapidly divided into two camps - the 'pros' and the 'antis'.  In the account that follows I will refer to the pros as the Eco Messy Mob and the antis as the Neat and Tidy Brigade.

Right from the start, objections were raised to letting the grass grow longer.  In this minor skirmish at the beginning of the Lower Green War, the idea that wild flowers were to flourish on Lower Green was anathema.  One objector even resurrected some archaic enclosure laws from the nineteenth century to buttress her case for a tidy Lower Green.  The SALC legal team quickly pointed out that these archaic laws did not apply to the land under dispute and the objection was rejected.  The experiment continued and by July 2013, the Green was looking very different to its usual 'short back and sides' appearance with flowers growing in profusion.

Self-heal on Lower Green, July 2013
Sadly, as the year progressed an unforeseen development reared its head.  Suckers put up by the old Black Poplar situated in the middle of the Green began to spring up everywhere.  This was a definite turning point and resulted in the Neat and Tidy Brigade gaining many converts.  It was unclear whether these suckers could be prevented from growing in future years and the Eco Messy Mob were put on the defensive.

Black Poplar sucker, Lower Green
The controversy over the maintenance of Lower Green only became acrimonious when, in March 2014, the grass was 'accidentally' cut short, though there was some suggestion that this was done at the instigation of a member of the Neat and Tidy Brigade.  As the year's experimental period had not expired, the Eco Messy Mob came out with all guns blazing, marshalled their forces, and bombarded the Parish Council with their views on why the experiment should continue.

The Neat and Tidy clique on the Parish Council panicked.  An attempt was made to move the date of the April Parish Council meeting so that all Neat and Tidy Councillors could attend to vote down any motion to continue the experiment.*
In any event, the Neat and Tidy clique came out victorious voting by 5 to 2 to abandon the experiment forthwith.  

Not content with this victory, some Councillors felt that old scores had to be settled.  The target was the Village News Editorial Team who were to be arraigned for daring to report on the controversy.  They argued that a recent article in the Newsletter "undermined the position of the council and belittled the decision-making regarding the maintenance programme for grass cutting on Lower Green."  A correction to be printed in the next edition of the Village News was insufficient; they wanted their "pound of flesh" and insisted that a retraction and an apology was required.  This was satirized in a spoof newsletter called THE FELSHAM PARISH PUMP.

Fortunately, with the absence of the main instigator of this nonsense (see Parish Councils and the law of defamation), the attempt to humiliate the Newsletter team was voted down at a subsequent meeting of the Parish Council.  There was now a definite desire to draw a line under the controversy and the Green War was finally over.  But have any lessons been learnt?

It has been officially acknowledged by MSDC (2 April 2015) that it is acceptable for a chairman of a parish council to change the date of a scheduled meeting to influence the outcome of a proposed vote through the deliberate and subsequent exclusion of some councillors and the inclusion of others.
The Parish Clerk, who at the time of the Green Wars controversy was in cahoots with the"neat and tidy" faction on the Council, changed the date of the scheduled meeting at which an important vote was to be taken over the future of Lower Green.  When challenged on this she blew her top and eventually resigned in a huff.  She asserted she had been insulted.  On closer investigation it appears that she disliked being reminded that she served all councillors and all parishioners and not just her associates and friends.  Furthermore, she took particular exception to being reminded that she was "public servant"; a term which, among the self-serving, self-employed local ruling clique, is regarded as a term of abuse.  It is a sorry state of affairs when people who serve the community in a public capacity, whether teachers, nurses, planning officers or local authority clerks, are ridiculed and demeaned by Tory types and their Lib Dem lackeys.