Difficult decision for parish council

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Billingshurst Parish Council has 15 members, who work together to represent the electorate of Billingshurst. They are all volunteers who put in an enormous amount of work for the benefit of everyone in the village.

There are elections every four years when the community gets to choose their local councillors. The council has a published Parish Plan in which it affirms its support for all generations in our village including ensuring that the design of Station Road Gardens has facilities for all members of our community.

Yet in the County Times of July 19 July, it is reported that the parish council considers young people to be ‘irrelevant and unimportant’. This is not true, evidenced by the council’s involvement in the recent provision of football goals and a basketball hoop at the Lower Station Road Recreation Ground, a ball court and youth shelter in Station Road and last year, a £20,000 contribution towards a new skate park at Jubilee Fields.

The council owns and maintains a number of play areas for its younger residents, and has supported other organisations such as the tennis club and sports association who amongst other things do a lot to encourage young people to get involved in sporting and leisure activities. The council also allowed some of its land to be used for the Billingshurst Swimming Pool and Children and Family Centre in Station Road.

The parish council has been castigated in the past for providing land on a lease for the provision of the Children and Family Centre and Wakoos Nursery in Station Road at less than the market rental. The council was told it needed to make a decision quickly in order to ensure that the project did not lose its government funding.

It was quite disappointing to see no reference to the parish council’s Station Road Gardens project in the Eye Project article of July 19. Station Road Gardens is one of the parish council’s leading projects and is the result of comprehensive consultation over the last five years. The project itself has seen some false starts with the council being nervous to commit to such expenditure in uncertain economic times.

Thus, the project has been scaled down and trimmed to provide a modest garden for all the community. Work started some four years ago with the installation of park style railings, followed by a ball court and youth shelter. Members of the public have been given permission for memorial benches, drainage has been installed and the former football field re-instated following its use for the swimming pool site compound.

The land is currently available for all age groups to use but it could be argued that with the ball park and shelter, youngsters are catered for more than other users thus highlighting further the council’s commitment to its younger parishioners.

The Eye Project Team’s preferred location for the Eye Project youth facility is on one third of the former football field part of Station Road Gardens. It is also worth noting that other ‘partners’ in the EYE Project such as the Weald School, Horsham District Council and West Sussex County Council, all of whom own a considerable amount of land locally, have not offered any of their land for the project.

The parish council’s commitment to all generations of this village is not in doubt, neither is its support for the Eye Project, unanimously agreed in February 2011. The parish council has not said ‘no’ to the location of the Eye Project at Station Road Gardens, but has adjourned the debate to seek the advice of its solicitor remembering that it has been criticised in the past for making decisions quickly.

There were no ‘aggressive’ jeers at the council meeting as reported in your paper on July 19. The chairman did not feel any aggression and thanked the parishioners for their impassioned but controlled debate and ensured that everyone had the opportunity to make themselves heard, including a Station Road resident who asked the council not to support the building of the Eye Project in Station Road to save one of the last remaining green spaces in the village.

The council has a fiduciary responsibility to the electorate and must ensure that it knows the full implications of any decision it makes to ensure that it does not become a burden on council tax payers in the future. The parish council is also entrusted to care for much of the public open space in Billingshurst.

It has previously sought legal advice for the provision of allotments at Manor Fields and is taking the same care and attention to detail with its land at Station Road Gardens. After all, if as the West Sussex County Times states on July 19 that it is proposed that the parish council becomes Custodian Trustee of the Eye Project, the legal status of this piece of land will be changed forever to charitable land with all the restrictions that encompasses.

This reporting is in fact premature, nothing has been discussed or agreed by the council, and this is one area where the council needs to take advice from its solicitor and insurers and is in part why the decision has been deferred.

Whatever decision the council eventually makes, not everyone will be happy, but it is scandalous that a councillor’s child is being picked on because the parish council has ‘killed off the Eye Project’. The Parish Council is not using its power to ‘deny fun’, and its members referred to as ‘less than ten ageing village residents’ by Mr McAteer are taking their role and the office vested in them very seriously, as you would expect from a Quality Council.

It is a shame that Mr McAteer has treated them with so little respect, and such comments are below what this council would expect from another professional.

The narrowness of the vote shows just how difficult this decision is for the council, but the decision was reached democratically following correct procedures. The council could have said no to the use of the land concerned and that would have been an end to the matter, however, currently the matter is still open.

The parish council welcomes people to attend its meetings, to participate in the public session, to hear the debates and see the decisions made first hand to hear all the facts and to help avoid any misunderstandings. This is democracy in action, not an unstable beast.

BEVERLEY BELL

Clerk, on behalf of Billingshurst Parish Council, Roman Way, Billingshurst