Vicious social media barracking has spilt over into physical attacks on Central Bedfordshire councillors and their property, reveals council leader

'We've had a number, fortunately a small number, of incidents'

Thursday, 11th November 2021, 4:37 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th November 2021, 4:47 pm

Social media has "allowed a huge assault on civility in public life", according to the leader of Central Bedfordshire Council.

And what Conservative Arlesey councillor Richard Wenham described as "vicious barracking" has led to a handful of "physical attacks on councillors and their property".

Referring to social media as "helpful, but also a curse", councillor Wenham called it: "A wonderful way of communicating things, if done properly.

Cllr Richard Wenham / CBC HQ

"I know of many councillors in our area who, in common with others across the country, have suffered vicious attacks on social media.

"Totally appalling statements made to them about themselves without any foundation at all," he revealed. "It's just unacceptable.

"The sad thing is that wouldn't occur if we were sat in the council chamber or a public meeting hall. It's because people hide behind a keyboard or screen.

"And it's also quite sad that councillors have entered into doing that to fellow councillors. That's not what any of us have gone into public life to do.

"This vicious barracking that's gone on has got no place in politics in my view and beyond that social media it sometimes unfortunately spills over into physical attacks on councillors and their property.

"We've had a number, fortunately a small number of incidents in Central Bedfordshire where it's spilled over into that which makes it even more concerning.

"I'm aware of a handful of incidents. That's totally unacceptable."

Councillor Wenham confirmed CBC is committed as a local authority to make its overall council operations net zero by 2030 and is some way towards achieving that goal.

"We've put renewable energy sources on our buildings where it's appropriate, we've got electric vehicles and recently adopted a policy on electric charging points across the area," he explained.

"And there are some really good energy-related projects, such as planning permission for the electric recharging station on the A5 near Hockliffe.

"A large part of the energy agenda is dominated by central government or private capital.

"The council will do its best to work in partnership with those sources to make them happen.

"On a completely different scale, the robustness of our energy infrastructure, we're aware of big capacity limitations in the grid locally.

"We're addressing that as part of the Biggleswade Housing Infrastructure Fund money, so just under £50m of that finance is to expand and generate a supergrid based around Biggleswade grid.

"That grid name is a little unfortunate because it has positive implications for electricity supply across the whole area to Amphill, Woburn and Leighton Buzzard, and certainly all down the A1 corridor because it frees up capacity elsewhere.

"That's quite a big deal. It's a once-in-a-generation improvement to electricity distribution in the area."

On transport, councillor Wenham said the recent government spending review failed to address whether East West Rail suffers because of investment in the HS2.

"Nobody knows exactly or whether the government intends to support the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

"Is it going to be a name or is it going to be something substantial which will do something for our residents?" he asked.

"My position on it, which is similar to other leaders in the central area of Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Milton Keynes, is we're supportive of the concept of the arc because we believe it can make a substantial difference to our residents' quality of life.

"If it can't do that then it's not something we can support. Sometimes there's a friction between government aspirations for housing numbers and targets, and what it's giving us to make that sustainable and deliverable.

"Getting that right is a continuing challenge because of insufficient resources, and we need to avoid growth without any infrastructure."