I thought I’d test out the new guidelines from the government last night and record some extracts from a Greenwich Council meeting. Well, it’s something to do on a Wednesday night.
The result is what I believe is the first news story about the council’s affairs to feature audio from a council meeting – confirmation of new plans for Charlton Lido. I’d heard of a couple of attempts by others to formalise a deal with the council to record meetings, but with no real movement either way on the issue, I thought getting on and doing it anyway would be the best plan.
Why do it? I’ve always thought the council should be more open about its dealings – its regular meetings are open to the public, but regular attendees can be counted in single figures. Being able to listen to the meetings will at least give people an idea of what goes on in their name – and might even spark a bit of interest. I also think that – as elected representatives – councillors can only benefit from being heard as widely as possible.
How did I do it? I used an iPhone – which records in near-broadcast quality – and Audioboo, which I’ve used for a few years now. With Audioboo, it’s easy to make short recordings of up to five minutes and upload them instantly. With its domed, glazed roof, the council chamber has very good reception on O2, which meant it was an easy job. Anyone following my Twitter feed would have seen the recordings appear first.
What are the difficulties? The sound quality isn’t brilliant. It depends on how much councillors get picked up by the microphones in the chamber, and how loudly they speak. (Council meetings are recorded for minute taking reasons anyway – but these never get released to the public. Just releasing this as a podcast, together with uploading the full meeting documentation to the council website, would be a start.) Yes, a big fluffy microphone would be better, but this is a cheap and easy way to do it. It’s also difficult to follow meetings from the public gallery, as there’s often a lack of documentation – lists of members’ questions, and so on – which meant at a couple of points last night I was flying blind.
Using Audioboo and Twitter means there’s a risk of things appearing out of context – the Blackheath Bugle blog leapt on one of the recordings but didn’t explain what was going on, which is a tad unfortunate. But that’s a risk in any media coverage of any event – there’s nothing holy or sacred about a council meeting. And just one person recording and uploading at the same time means some questions will get missed.
(2.35PM UPDATE – It looks like the News Shopper, which as far as I’m aware wasn’t represented last night, has also been listening in. Reporter Kelly Smale certainly wasn’t at Woolwich Town Hall last night, and their Charlton Lido story’s not exactly accurate either – in fact, it completely misses what’s actually a good news story. This is what happens when you base a newspaper miles way from the area it purports to cover. Now, shall I invoice the lazy so-and-sos?)
So, here is what was recorded last night on Wellington Street. I hope you find it useful and interesting. The female voice you hear between questions is mayor Barbara Barwick. It’s very rare for Labour members to ask questions, so most of the questioners are Conservative councillors.
Ferrier Estate resident Nick Russell asks the council to stop threatening residents of the doomed estate with eviction. He also asks questions about the maintenance of the remaining parts of the estate, claiming some fire exits have been blocked. Cabinet member for housing Steve Offord responds.
Culture and Olympics cabinet member John Fahy reveals Greenwich Leisure Limited has taken on the lease to Charlton Lido, which is now in line to get a 50m heated pool. Conservative leader Spencer Drury asks the question.
Deputy Conservative leader Nigel Fletcher quizzes regeneration and enterprise cabinet member Denise Hyland on the shelved Greenwich gyratory. She says some of the work put into the failed scheme will be useful in future.
Conservative Adam Thomas asks Denise Hyland what she thinks of Berkeley Homes selling Kidbrooke Village homes off-plan in Asia.
Blackheath Westcombe councillor Geoff Brighty asks what effect the row between LOCOG and the British Olympic Association could have on London 2012’s events in Greenwich Park. John Fahy responds.
John Fahy responds to the Blackheath Halls representatives:
Deputy leader Peter Brooks on a suggestion that the number of cabinet members be reduced to fund apprenticeships.
There, that wasn’t the end of the world, was it?
Two things I wished I’d recorded but didn’t – a stirring plea from environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara to the public to help report flytipping, and Charlton councillor Allan MacCarthy condemning the Nationwide’s branch closures (the council will write to the society to protest).
I did record a member of the public comparing a senior council officer to Colonel Gadaffi…. but deleted it. Probably for the best.