Speaking guildelines are facing backlash

Housing campaigners have blasted renewed guidance on public speaking in council meetings as ‘undemocratic’.

Amber Valley Borough Council issued reminders to members of the public wishing to speak at meetings through its Facebook site and website a fortnight ago.

The guidance states that a speaker can be told to stop if their address covers a topic already raised by a member of the public in the last six months.

But housing campaigners fighting moves to build a Morrison’s supermarket on Nottingham Road, Ripley, and the possibility of Greenbelt sites being included in the authority’s 20 year housing strategy, have accused the Amber Valley of restricting freedom of speech.

Leader of Ripley Town Council Stuart Freeborn, speaking from the public gallery during the March meeting, said: “I was astonished from what I’ve just heard. Just because you don’t want to have people coming up here and complaining about the stuff they want to be talking about.”

Chief executive of the authority Peter Carney replied, saying the moves were not about the removal of right to speak but about making sure debates in chamber are not repeated.

But Cllr Freeborn said: “I think it is remarkable that it’s okay for the councillors return to an issue month after month, but the public can’t.”

The public speaking section of the meeting ended campaigners walking out.

This week a spokesperson for the authority said the public speaking rules are not ‘new’, but have been reissued in light of a recent surge in the number of people wishing to speak in council chambers.

Amber Valley mayor Cllr Ron Ashton, said: “It’s been gratifying to see so many of the seats filled in the public gallery at recent meetings.

“This guidance emphasises the long standing policy that a matter may be rejected or you may be asked to stop your address if it relates to the same subject raised by a member of the public in the previous six months.”