SENIOR councillors have been accused of letting residents down “time and time again” by ignoring public opinion on major decisions.
Cheshire West and Chester Council’s executive members were told in a debate on the local authority’s consultation processes that they had treated residents “like fools”.
Labour opposition councillors claimed the controversial sale of County Hall and the failed Chester Cathedral Square project illustrated the council’s failings.
They also said the furore over the proposed Richmond Court homeless shelter in Boughton was a prime example of the council getting things wrong.
Labour Cllr Reggie Jones slammed the executive before singling out Conservative council leader Mike Jones for criticism.
He said: “Openness, transparency, community engagement, inclusiveness, consultation – you don't know the meaning of the words.
“Especially you [Cllr Mike Jones] as the leader. People look to you for leadership and time and time again you let our communities down.
“Secrecy, deceit, arrogance, lacking integrity – these are words that you are collectively defined by.
“That is not me who says it. I am merely the messenger believe me and if you don’t believe it you really do need to consider what you are doing.”
Between 80 and 100 residents, who had earlier protested against the proposed homeless shelter, packed out the executive meeting and applauded Cllr Jones’ comments.
He said the council had been “disingenuous” in the way it had handled the Richmond Court scheme.
“Once again, as a council, you have failed to understand the significance of the decision that you have made,” he said.
“You are treating people like fools. That is wrong, people are not fools.”
But Cllr Lynn Riley, executive member for community and environment, said the consultation could often be a waste of time and money.
She said: “I personally don’t like words like consultation and I don’t like words like engagement. I would much rather speak in normal language where we use things like ask and listen and get involved.
“From day one this council set out to do things differently from the councils that have gone before.”
Earlier this year the executive asked the council’s corporate scrutiny committee to review the way the authority consulted and engaged with residents on significant issues.
Labour group leader Justin Madders said it seemed executive members had often already decided what they wanted to do before going to consultation.
He said: “My plea to you is to be honest at the outset. If you have made up your mind, say so.
“Too often you take the results of a consultation and ignore them because you don’t like the answer that you have had.
“The council will lose all credibility if the public see consultation as merely a box-ticking exercise.”
Tory Cllr Gareth Anderson, deputy scrutiny committee chairman, said the review found the council had good consultation processes but they were not always followed.
Cllr Anderson said some opposition councillors treated rumour as fact and the council could only consult based on facts.
He said: “We also have to make sure people realise that a consultation is not the same as a binding referendum.”