So this was the week that West Dunbartonshire Council’s leader, Martin Rooney, eventually succumbed to temptation and allowed his contempt for the Save Posties Park campaign to leak out in public. He published a column in the Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter this week, and in it he besmirched the campaigners’ motivations and objectives, suggesting that some hidden “narrow agenda” lies behind the campaign activities. It worries me considerably that a man in his position cannot see the value in local green-space resources, and would sooner concoct a bizarre conspiracy theory to explain why people want to save a valued park from destruction.
I’ve witnessed this type of unexplained over-sensitivity from Mr. Rooney before, when he engaged in a Facebook conversation with a person who enquired about his colleague Councillor Michelle McGinty’s on-again/off-again surgeries. Mr. Rooney immediately took a defensive stance and called the enquirer’s motives into question, referring to them as “alterior” (sic). You can see a screen-shot of the discussion here :-
It’s disconcerting to see behaviour like this from someone in a leadership role, particularly when he uses his privileged position as a newspaper columnist to give voice to his personal feelings. I wish, for a moment, that Mr. Rooney would engage in a bit of self-reflection and ponder on the reason why he feels so prickly on the Posties issue; why he has to immediately go onto a defensive tack whenever it is discussed, and why he feels he has to try and belittle the voice of those who want to save the Park. There’s no hidden agenda here. The campaigners don’t have an ulterior motive. There are some simple, completely transparent and understandable reasons why he and his officers are facing difficult questions from the campaigners :-
- People are angry at the Administration for ever having put Posties on a list for potential development, when it is clearly shown on our adopted Local Plan as open space.
- People are angry at Martin Rooney himself for blithely stating that Posties is the preferred site for the new school, and for failing to demonstrate any apprehension or concern at the scale of the community objection.
- People are angry at Michelle McGinty for doing the same, and especially for using a self-serving and insubstantial argument about her transport problems to promote the idea. They are also incredibly discouraged by her failure to support a request for a meeting venue change to ensure equitable access to the committee decision-making process.
- And, certainly, people are angry at Terry Lanagan for single-mindedly pushing his agenda to put his new school on our park. And for rubbishing it at the September committee meeting.
Mr. Rooney seems to labour under the misapprehension that people who have an axe to grind against him are joining the Save Posties Park campaign and using it as a vehicle to attack him. This would seem like a gargantuan level of conceit. I’ve never heard anyone in the campaign vocalising any motives other than a desire to save our park for generations to come. And if there is anger towards Mr Rooney and his colleagues, well it is only because they are playing fast and loose with our valued green spaces, and seeming to show very little consideration for the huge numbers of citizens who object to any proposal to build on Posties. And many of those citizens helped put them in Office.
There’s a saying along the lines of, “If one man says to thee, ‘Thou art a donkey’, pay no heed. However, if two speak thus, purchase a saddle.” Instead of feeling hard done by and getting defensive, maybe it’s time for Mr. Rooney to analyse the trends in the criticism leveled against him and join the dots.
As well as making snipes about hidden agendas, Martin Rooney also used his column to paint a reductive picture of the potential issues affecting any build on Posties Park. From a massive campaign of many hundreds of thousands of words, he chose to pick examples which suggest a mountain-out-of-a-molehill, NIMBYistic agenda. He may have thought he was being cute to pick up on a statement about the absence of life belts at the Quay, and teenagers’ ability to cross a river without falling in, but God forbid he ever has cause to look back on his words and regret his disdain. He may have thought that he’d rend the community division further by throwing in a polarising statement about “rampaging school children” as if this is the raison d’être of the campaign. In fact, I’ve heard it mentioned once by a campaigner, in relation to the impact on the peace and tranquility of the park that is so valued by all. But it’s hardly the campaign’s driving force, and it certainly wouldn’t have been the issue that a measured, unbiased report highlighted.
Perhaps unsurprisingly Mr. Rooney chose not to focus on the very well-evidenced geo-technical barriers to a build on Posties that the Council’s own specialists, Ramboll UK, warned of, and which you can read here. He mentioned unexploded bombs, presumably with an undertone of sarcasm suggesting that campaigners are exaggerating the risk. What he didn’t mention is that the Ramboll report includes a 68-page specialist section by 1st Line Defence Limited, which classifies Posties Park as a ‘High Risk’ site for unexploded ordnance. Once again, lets hope that Mr Rooney isn’t forced to look back on his levity of tone with any regret.
And he also omitted to highlight the various planning obstacles that are likely to arise from any proposal to build on Posties. For example, he didn’t mention that SEPA have advised that they will most likely object to any development of Posties Park –
Nor did he mention that the RSPB have indicated that any decision to build on Posties Park is likely to require an extensive bird habitat monitoring process – which could take up to two years to complete –
And curiously he also failed to mention that the RSPB’s interest extends beyond the construction phase, and that their monitoring would have to take into consideration the impact of the day-to-day running of the school, including any evening sports activities –
So the fabulous new sports fields that Terry Lanagan has used as his primary argument to support a build on Posties might well end up being all for naught, if nobody gets to use them.
All of these good reasons for avoiding any build on Posties Park are known to our Council leader. He has, as his column attests, seen the report that Terry Lanagan has produced before any one else has. Yet he has chosen to select only certain reductive issues to highlight, and blithely describes the need for “a degree of mitigation” in handling these.
He states that the proposal to build on Posties Park is “fundamentally an educational issue”, and suggests that most reasonable people would share his view. Well, I like to think of myself as a fairly reasonable person, and I absolutely don’t share his view. This is much more than just an educational issue, and I believe that his role as a Councillor is to take a Council-wide perspective on everything, and ensure that there is not a departmental pecking order evolving. This decision is being made by the Education Services Committee, but it stands to have a massive social, environmental and economic impact on our town, so to view it in educational terms only is just not good enough.
Mr Rooney concludes his article with the claim that “no clear preference has been expressed” through the consultation, despite having stated earlier in the article that two thirds of the respondents voted against a build on Posties Park. He doesn’t explain how he comes to his conclusion, but I know that a number of campaigners are writing to him to ask him for an explanation, and I will report back on this in due course.
I’m sure that Martin Rooney, were he to read this blog, would view it as yet another reason to don a tin-foil hat and barnstorm about how I’ve got a hidden agenda. Well, he’s half-way right – I do have an agenda, but there’s nothing hidden about it. My agenda is the same as the 1200-odd other supporters of the campaign, and it can be expressed in three simple words – Save Posties Park.