Emotional Sleaford Market Place council debate after tragic death of petition organiser

It was an emotional North Kesteven District Council debate on Sleaford Market Place on Thursday, as the petition organiser who triggered the hearing passed away earlier that day.
Anthony Henson was a disabled resident and campaigner in Sleaford. Photo: Ellis KarranAnthony Henson was a disabled resident and campaigner in Sleaford. Photo: Ellis Karran
Anthony Henson was a disabled resident and campaigner in Sleaford. Photo: Ellis Karran

North Kesteven District Council’s Full Council meeting for Thursday, January 25 began with a shock announcement of the death of petition organiser and disabled campaigner Anthony Henson, 63, from Sleaford, whose “Pink Petition” is the reason the Market Place debate was added to the agenda in the first place.

Anthony fought tirelessly to oppose the council’s proposals for Sleaford Market Place, amassing thousands of signatures across physical and online petitions, as he called on the district council to reverse its planning consent for the £1 million Market Place vision.

Despite this and the many opposing voices from the public, Full Council voted against accepting the petition, by a margin of 13 in favour to 20 against, with four abstainers.

The petition requested to withdraw the planning application and consult further with businesses and residents, who feared it would kill footfall and local business with its plan to restrict parking in favour of a more pedestrianised Market Square.

Ken Hanslip of Bellissimo Boutique on the Market Place presented the petition in Anthony’s place, and told the council chamber he was “here with a heavy heart” after Mr Henson’s tragic passing, where he collapsed at Sleaford Market Place on Thursday afternoon.

Mr Hanslip, who said he had been there at the time with campaigners after conducting an interview with an ITV crew in the Market Place, paid tribute to the paramedics and Air Ambulance doctors who worked on Mr Henson in the back of an ambulance.

Ken read a statement from Anthony, in which he called himself a “reluctant campaigner” and listed grievances against the Market Place plans and, specifically, its perceived lack of consultation with residents and business owners. He called upon the district council not to spend taxpayers’ money fighting a potential legal challenge from the Town Council and “do the right thing” by revisiting the plans and consulting further.

Cllr Marianne Overton (Lincolnshire Independents) started the debate by paying tribute to both Anthony Henson and Ken Hanslip, saying: “My heart goes out to all involved, and I send my condolences to his friends and family.

“Anthony Henson gave his heart and soul to working on this event, to try and tackle this application. It was his heart and soul.”

Cllr Overton went on to say that the council should “pause and consider if there’s a better way” when there is “significant concern from our residents.”

This was echoed by Cllr Linda Edwards-Shea (Labour), who said: “I got to know Anthony as a result of working alongside him on Sleaford Neighbourhood Plan. Anthony was a terrific local campaigner, especially on behalf of local disabled groups.

“He endeavoured to make Sleaford a better place for everybody. My heart goes out to Yvette and their wider family and friends today.”

A clearly emotional Cllr Mark Oates (Lincolnshire Independents) fought back tears as he recalled Anthony Henson’s life and paid respects to him and his family. It was reflective of a wholly unique and heartbreaking occasion inside the civic suite.

Cllr Mark Smith went against the grain of speakers at this debate, saying that a “growing number of people” support the Market Place plan, and that those who do are reluctant to say it publicly due to “attacks” they will receive on social media.

Cllr Richard Wright (Conservative), Leader of NKDC, called it a “really sad day” and offered his condolences to Mr Henson’s family before rejecting claims from previous speakers in the debate that councillors had been “blindsided.”

“This has not been something that has been pushed through by a few people. It’s not the case that this has suddenly arrived, there’s been 13 years for councillors to have their say.”

A follow-up motion by Cllr David Suiter (Lincolnshire Independents) called on North Kesteven District Council “not to act on any planning permission in its name regarding changes to the Sleaford Market Place and instead to consult with the public and businesses.”

Council Leader Richard Wright called on Cllr Suiter to “consider withdrawing the motion” in the interest of “partnership” to deliver the best results for the people of Sleaford.

He said: “The planning consent for the Market Place scheme creates the flexibility to explore the detailed design and the options for effective operation. I am keen to explore options for permanent disabled parking, and for detailed design that facilitates existing and new events for what is the primary public space in the town centre.

“I have asked officers to invite the elected leadership of the town council, to explore these opportunities. In doing so, I do not believe we need a motion to bring this about. The planning consent already creates the framework for this to happen.”

Cllr Overton called this a “hard pill to swallow,” arguing that “proper consultation” would not happen if the motion was dropped, despite the mention of collaboration by the council leader.

“We have to think differently about democracy,” she said. “We cannot disregard the petitions we do receive. What can we do that’s better? Please support this motion, it’s about democracy, it’s about listening to local people.”

This was met with a round of applause by the members of the public in the suite.

Despite this, a recorded vote resulted in the council rejecting Cllr Suiter’s motion, by a margin of 13 in favour and 21 against, with three abstentions — meaning the Sleaford Market Place plans will go ahead.