North Lincolnshire Council has “blood on its hands” over the number of incidents at Ashby Ville Nature Reserve, a furious councillor claimed during a heated meeting.
Councillors traded verbal blows in a rowdy full council meeting with Labour’s Councillor Andrea Davison, who represents the Ashby ward, making the claim after a man was left seriously injured in an incident at the site – three days after she called for a permanent warden to deter would-be swimmers.
Teenager, Kai Gardner-Pugh, 14, tragically drowned at the former quarry last year and on Sunday, August 14, a man had to be rescued from the water and was airlifted to hospital in “a serious condition”.
Councillor Davison asked how many Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) have been issued at Ashby Ville and elsewhere. She had put forward a motion at an extraordinary council meeting held on Friday, August 11, calling for a permanent warden at the nature reserve to deter would-be swimmers.
The motion was rejected and instead, the Conservative-controlled council passed an amendment removing all reference to a warden. They passed a more holistic approach, including raising awareness of the risks of swimming in open water to schoolchildren and to create a new model to enforce PSPOs on swimming in open water and other offences across the local authority.
“I’m going to ask the question: Do you have blood on your hands?” said Councillor Davison, drawing a direct link between the extraordinary council outcome and the man taken to hospital from Ashby Ville three days later. The strong language was met with appalled reaction from Conservative councillors in the chamber.
“I was told face to face that my motion was going to be supported,” she went on to say, accusing the council leader Councillor Rob Waltham of going back on his word and the Conservative group of not being willing to support the move because they had not thought of it first. “Let your conscience lead you and bring a warden in,” Councillor Davison urged.
Councillor Waltham certainly did not share the same memory of promising support for appointing a permanent warden for Ashby Ville and was scathing of the tone the Ashby Ward councillor had used. “The policy position that is set out on Ashby Ville, despite the protestations of members opposite, was quite clearly to establish an action plan,” said Councillor Waltham. He also accused Labour members of not turning up to the nature reserve apart from when press were there, an attack furiously rejected by opposition councillors as inaccurate.
“The PSPO is under review to even strengthen the power of enforcement,” added Councillor Waltham, shortly before a dissatisfied Councillor Davison shouted across the chamber: “We’re talking about children, Rob.”
“What should happen, if you were really interested in the issue, you’d be backing the council policy,” replied Councillor Waltham, before labelling Labour as resorting to the “most shameful kind of politics”. More crosstalking followed, prompting exasperated Mayor Councillor Brigg to say: “If you just shout across the chamber, I might as well go outside.”
PSPOs were introduced in 2014 and are intended to deal with nuisance or problems in an area that cause harm to the quality of life of the community. Councillor Davison was promised through Mayor Councillor John Briggs that officers would get in touch after the meeting with the PSPO figures.
Bitter exchanges surfaced over other policy areas, though with councillors from either side making direct references to May 2023 elections. This included Scunthorpe High Street’s recently opened urban park, outside of North Lincolnshire Council’s main office, which Labour criticised. The project took several years to be completed and received £1 million investment from the government’s Town Fund. The council has applied to name the park after Queen Elizabeth II.
Councillor Steve Swift said the end product was “abysmal” for the money spent, describing it as a “poor man’s Marshall Yard”, referring to Gainsborough’s outdoor shopping centre. He predicted few Conservative councillors would survive May’s elections, causing Councillor Waltham to cry out: “Nasty Labour, all over again.”
It was an emotive full council meeting, with feelings undoubtedly heightened in part by the prospect of North Lincolnshire’s people’s verdict on their councillors next year.