Wednesday, 22 February 2012

People-Power Can Prevail by Lesley Williams

“There’s no point”.

“Once they’ve decided what they want, there’s nothing anyone can do”.

“We can’t change anything”.

How many times do we hear these comments and sentiments like them when the Powers-That-Be come up with some new scheme or proposal which the ordinary man and woman in the street thinks – indeed, knows – is not what the community wants, won’t work or is downright wrong and maybe damaging?

But in actual fact, we CAN be a force for change if enough people join together and are determined enough. That was borne out by the campaign to keep St Catherine Street open when people came together in mass protest against the ludicrous plan to close the street to traffic during trading hours.

A few of us called a public meeting to propose that a referendum be held in order to see whether Carmarthen’s residents wanted the closure or not.  Hundreds of people came to the meeting in St Peter’s Hall because nearly everyone in the town realised that closing the street was the most stupid and unworkable part of the mart redevelopment plan.  A referendum was unanimously called for by the people at the meeting but Carmarthenshire County Council refused to allow it. 

A “No to Closure/Na I Gau” poster and leaflet campaign followed with many of us tramping the streets of Carmarthen in order to ask every resident to display one of these posters in their windows or in their cars.  The support was overwhelming and we had to keep having the posters re-printed – thanks to many local traders who helped fund this. The Carmarthen Journal under editor Robert Lloyd, also ran many articles about the campaign.  Rather different to the tone of the Journal these days!

At this point, one extremely courageous woman, Gabrielle Sheppard, decided to call for a Judicial Review of the refusal to allow a referendum and took the council to court.  If she had lost this case, it would have meant selling her only asset – the roof over her head – in order to pay the council’s legal costs (which we, the council taxpayers, were paying anyway).

But, she won her case.  The Judge in the Court in Cardiff decreed that the case should be looked at again and a decision about whether a referendum could be held should be made by a High Court judge – it was obvious that the council was on sticky ground for refusing.

Another public meeting was called and even more people turned up for this one – standing room only in St Peter’s Hall.  (Has this ever happened before?)  It was at this point that the council capitulated – they could obviously see the writing on the wall and that they were going to lose the case. 

St Catherine Street would remain open.  The people had won.

The moral of this story is that people-power can prevail if we are strong enough and united enough in our determination to change things that we don’t like.  Never say, “there’s no point” – there’s ALWAYS a point!

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