Whitstable Always Mentions Parking (WAMP)

5441547-largeIt’s a shame that Whitstable has one big unsolvable issue that can never be fixed. The town’s traffic problems inspire opinion and debate, but there is no easy answer, there’s just too many cars and it’s impossible to fit them neatly into place.

I’ve only been to two Whitstable Area Member Panel meetings but parking issues have dominated both. We can add yellow lines, take away yellow lines, change rules with loading bays, get tougher traffic wardens, or spend money on consultations, but nothing can fix the problem of a town that’s too small to hold all its cars. The traffic problem will feature at these meetings until flying cars park in the sky.

WAMP is a council meeting for and about Whitstable. I fear the average Whitstable citizen couldn’t tell you the difference between Canterbury City Council, Kent City Council, and the work our MP does.  I’ve learned a lot since my husband got elected as a councillor. I’ve come to the conclusion that Canterbury Council is 40% council staff telling councillors what to do, 30% bins, 20% transport, 10% development and planning and 10% wearing robes in parades. I expect my husband has a better understand of it all, and can even make the percentages add up.

I am finding it fascinating to learn about local government, and am glad I now understand that white gloves and tie must be worn with the robes, and that cathedral invites traditionally entitle wives to sit a few rows from the front with a good view of the robed backs.

WAMP involves all our Whitstable councillors, and before my husband was a councillor I had the vague idea that it was a meeting to talk about the bins. I was wrong, it’s all about the traffic.

The councillors also hold a £15,000 pot of money for useful projects for the town. My initial interest in WAMP was entirely based on the idea that they might give me £750 to put on a free community event. The councillors said yes, so I am very grateful that WAMP helped launch Museum of Fun. This year we’re doing it again, bigger and better and with money raised entirely from fundraising and sponsorship. WAMP got us off the ground and I appreciate receiving their seed funding.

I heard about the money from someone who’d applied in the past, and I think the regular community folks do know about the WAMP grants. But this cash is for anyone who has a good plan that benefits people in the town. We weren’t an official group when we applied, just a few friends with a mission. You can ask for a few hundred pounds, and there’s even an easy application form. I hope someone reading this might have a good idea and apply.

WAMP is not a secret, but just like no one really knows what the council does, no one knows that every six weeks  a public meeting takes place where anyone can raise a question and get involved. I think it’s great that anyone can potentially email a discussion point and might get councillors to investigate their Car Park In The Sky idea.

You’d have to be the sort of person who enjoys reading the council website to know about WAMP, so the same regulars tend to go each time. People who organise community groups, individuals with a passion for double yellow lines, or more often, political types who find it their only opportunity to voice their opposition to everything tory.

Half the local voters voted for opposition parties, but eight of nine councillors are Conservative. I have to admit it makes perfect democratic sense to give people their say this way, I just don’t like that it leads to shouting.

I am a big fan of community involvement, I’ve even read the Localism Act 2011 (plain English version, it’s very readable!) which is a significant law about good people making a difference.  An open meeting for councillors and the people to come together is an excellent thing. The problem is the practicalities of making this work.

The issues:

1)  The community are more interested in Game of Thrones than ways to make our town better.

2) The community who do care about their town are not likely to come to an obscure meeting that sounds like a yeti.

3) The left wing people who care understandably have a bit of a chip on their shoulder and engage councillors in a shouty ‘us and them’ battle.

I went to the last meeting because I was interested in hearing views on a local issue. It became awkward because my councillor husband was elected chairman of WAMP. His first job was to field a question from me, and declare himself unable to answer because he knows me. He knows me very well. The problem is neither of us know exactly what to do about sharing an interest in local things. He needs to learn what to do as a Councillor,  and I need to learn what not to do as a Councillor’s Wife.

And the good thing is I can leave him to sort all three points above. My Councillor husband is doing a great job, you can read his blog here if you like. I’m not sure if there’ll be any quick changes to WAMP, whether he’ll add an agenda item about Game of Thrones to popularise the meeting, or  lower the volume on the shouty opposition, or even lead Whitstable to victory in the parking war. I only know he’ll do his best, which is probably all you can do with this complicated monster of a meeting.

I do like WAMP, but I’m glad I have the chance of more practical community stuff to get involved with. It’s a lot easier creating a community event than fixing impossible issues with cars and buses.

The next WAMP is September 9th, do go along but please don’t expect an answer to traffic issues, and I’d appreciate it if you could make political points at normal volume, thanks.

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