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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Cumbrian council in clear over referendum 'sabotage' claim

An investigation has found that a council accused of deliberately sabotaging a referendum into plans for a multi-million pound leisure centre acted correctly.

Denis Robertson photo
Denis Robertson

An official complaint was lodged against Allerdale Council’s chief executive and returning officer Ian Frost into the way a public poll on whether the borough’s planned leisure complex should be built on The Cloffocks in Workington was managed.

The referendum was called by independent councillor Denis Robertson who is strongly opposed to the centre moving from his Moorclose ward.

And last month a disappointing turnout of fewer than four per cent of the people living in Workington voted in the £9,000 poll, meaning it cost around £14 a head.

Mr Robertson claims that it was due to the way the council publicised the vote that resulted in the poor attendance. He even went as far as to say the authority was out to deliberately sabotage the public poll as there was more than 20 polling stations and voters did not know which one was theirs.

However, an internal investigation carried out by the council has concluded that the parish poll was “run properly” in accordance with the appropriate legislation.

A council spokeswoman told the News & Star that Allerdale’s responsibilities were to administer the election and publish the relevant notices, which it did.

“Councillor Robertson was informed of this on numerous occasions prior to, and since, the day of the poll,” she added. “As has also been reported widely, the outcome of the poll is not legally binding. It is simply an expression of interest of the views of the people who voted in the poll.”

But Mr Robertson said he was “disgusted” with the outcome of the investigation and was planning to take his complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman and even ask for a public inquiry.

“This fight is not over,” said Mr Robertson. “As far as I’m concerned Allerdale tried to sabotage the poll. I’ll admit the turnout was a bit low, but if people knew where they were able to vote I believe it would have been much higher. People were extremely confused about which polling station they had to use. But of those who did vote they voted nine to one that the leisure centre should not be built on The Cloffocks.”

He said the council should have provided him with an electoral roll to state who and where people were eligible to vote.

Mr Robertson has always fought plans to develop The Cloffocks, saying it is on a flooding plain. He also claims the council’s original consultation into where it should be built was flawed.

The referendum asked whether the £9.41m should be built there and 571 people voted ‘no’, while 67 voted ‘yes’. Two ballot papers were spoiled or unmarked.

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