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January 12, 2011

Community councils – what might have been

One of the most common criticisms levelled at our current system of local government is that councils operate at too great a distant from the communities they are supposed to serve. Many believe that if community councils had been properly resourced and empowered when they were first set up, the sort of acrimony which has broken out recently in an East Kilbride ward would be much less common than it is

AN EAST Kilbride councillor is at loggerheads with community activists after putting the condition of a shopping precinct under the spotlight. Central South Councillor Gerry Convery highlighted the rundown state of the Westwood Square two weeks ago after attempts to get the precinct’s owners, Russell Properties, to upgrade it fell on deaf ears.

However, the EK councillor has since come under a barrage of criticism from members of the Westwood community council and traders in the square who say he has never approached them to work together on the issue.

Jim Russell, secretary of the Westwood community council, said: “This is an issue we have been dealing with for a number of years. The general poor state of repair in the shopping area has been raised at almost every meeting of the community council and if Councillor Convery had attended any of our meetings we could have perhaps joined forces in an attempt to put pressure on the property owners.”

Councillor Convery’s call for action also riled some traders in the square.

Fiona Stevenson has ran a barber’s shop for three years and was astonished when she read about Mr Convery’s campaign.

She said: “He has never even came in to my shop and talked to me or some of the other local businesses. I called him to speak about it because it will do the square’s business no good to run it down, and that’s what’s happening.

“I was told that because I wasn’t a constituent, I wasn’t his concern but I employ three local residents so will it be a concern if he puts their jobs at risk? I was very angry at what he did.”

Councillor Convery told the EK Mail: “I’m not going to get involved in any nonsense with these people. Myself and Councillor Pat Watters have been working away behind the scenes to get something done. We have not worked against anybody. We have done this off our own backs and as an elected councillor – not once has any shopkeeper approached me about the state of the square.

“We were trying to help the shopkeepers but maybe it is up to them to get their act into gear with the owners. There’s not a lot we can do because as we’ve said, it’s not owned by the council.”

He added: “ I’m quite annoyed that some of the shopkeepers felt this was negative. What was so bad about trying to get the square up-graded. It was Pat and I who got the money to get the bridge painted.

“My interests are the people I represent. I want to work with the community council and the shopkeepers.”