Students put politicians on spot

PUBLISHED: 15:15 13 March 2008 | UPDATED: 10:37 03 July 2010

Laura Bagshaw

STUDENTS had the unique experience of grilling local politicians on a range of topics from dualling the Acle Straight to the casino plans, the planned third river crossing and under-age drinking.

STUDENTS had the unique experience of grilling local politicians on a range of topics from dualling the Acle Straight to the casino plans, the planned third river crossing and under-age drinking.

At a meeting chaired by Great Yarmouth mayor Paul Garrod, more than 50 A-level politics students from East Norfolk Sixth Form College quizzed local councillors and officers about burning issues for young people in the borough including public transport, under-age drinking and lowering the voting age.

Leader of the borough council Barry Coleman and leader of the Labour group Trevor Wainwright took part in the debate in the council chamber alongside Tories George Jermany and Graham Plant, and Labour's Michael Jeal and Penny Linden.

The meeting began with Mr Garrod explaining how the borough council works and the impact its decisions have on residents' lives in terms of planning and development and refuse collection. Council officers explained a series of issues concerning Yarmouth including public transport, dualling the A47 Acle Straight and the third river crossing.

Peter Warner, head of planning, sparked debate by detailing the cost of local transport services as well as putting the arguments for and against dualling the A47 Acle Straight.

Several students questioned why the eight-mile stretch of the Acle Straight could not have improved lighting.

Mr Warner said there would be a major environmental argument against increased use of lighting which could affect wildlife.

The council's executive director Peter Hardy explained the importance of Yarmouth netting a licence for one of eight large casinos to be built in the country.

In the afternoon, students took control of the council chamber and chaired a meeting about under-age drinking and what the council could do to tackle the problem. After donning the mayor's gown and hat, 17-year-old Rachel Sursham was ready to chair her first meeting.

Students' opinions about under-age drinking varied, with several citing attitudes to alcohol on the Continent.

One said: “People in European countries are introduced to drink at a very early age so they realise their limits. I think the age should be lowered.” Others supported the claim, saying you could join the army and be married at 16, so why not be allowed to drink alcohol.

One student said it was “inevitable” for young people to drink and the best way to tackle the problem was better education on drinking responsibly. Issues of the cost of alcohol and advertising were also raised.

Barry Coleman said under-age drinking was a major social issue and “you would have to be on Mars not to realise that”.

The student “councillors” came up with three ways to deal with under-age drinking in the borough.

They would:

ban drink adverts in the local community

expand the bylaw in Great Yarmouth which prohibits drinking in the street

endorse teen nights at nightclubs which are alcohol-free zones.

Rachel, who hopes to study politics at university, said she enjoyed her time in the chair.

“It was definitely an eye opener. Lots of people had their hands up wanting to put their opinion across and it was quite difficult to keep track of,” she said.

After the event, Mr Garrod emphasised the importance of voting in local elections. “We have local elections in May and they are probably more important to you than general elections,” he said.

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