Opportunities for youth provision

This is an open letter to Billingshurst Parish Council regarding the EYE Project - a dedicated facility for the youth of our community.

In 2009 acknowledging the need for a ‘centralised youth facility’ you asked Billingshurst Community Partnership if they would take on the responsibility for this project. You asked us to do this as you recognised that you did not possess either the skills or experience to undertake such a complex project, whereas we had demonstrated our skills, and expertise, in delivering such major projects for the village as Jubilee Fields and the Family and Children Centre to name but two.

We accepted that challenge and set up a sub-group comprising representatives from yourselves, district councillors, county councillors and experts in youth matters as well as the major stakeholder representatives from our younger community.

Over the ensuing years many hundreds of voluntary hours have been spent in feasibility studies; drawing up business plans; commissioning architect’s plans for the building; and

deciding a suitable framework for any ensuing legal entity. Your representatives participated in these meetings and made contribution to them.

One of the first key items to be considered was the location of the facility itself. In respect of this, the major stakeholders, the young people, told us very clearly through extensive consultation, that the location needed to be near to the school but not on the school campus.

They also told us that the final location had to be safe and easily accessible by public and other forms of transport. After an early setback with another site and following much research and discussion, the optimum location was identified as between the swimming pool and the childcare centre on a small area of what is now known as the ‘Gardens Project’ in Station Road.

You also, quite reasonably throughout this process, raised a number of concerns and associated questions all of which we answered either in writing, presentation or discussion.

Your objections finally came down to two key areas - that the project should not impose any

burden on precept; and concern as to the loss of recreational land in providing a site.

We believed we had found a solution to both of these issues when West Sussex County Council (WSCC), in recognising both your concerns and their own wish to support the project, offered to swap land owned by WSCC adjacent to the Station Road Gardens facility, on the edge of the Weald School campus, in exchange for the community-owned site of onethird of an acre of the old football pitch in Station Road, next to the leisure centre, where it was proposed the EYE facility would be located.

Moreover, the land area offered by WSCC for exchange is some two and a half times greater than the area required for the EYE building and so the council would gain additional open space for the community land bank. Integration of this land area into the Gardens project also gives scope for further recreational facilities as our plans to you have demonstrated. The EYE building would complement the Gardens project and fit readily into its design. This is fully supported by the Gardens project team and all of this is at no cost to precept.

On presentation of this proposal to you at this month’s full council meeting, the motion was again rejected. The reasons given by some of you can only be described as wilfully retrospective; raising objections that were both reiterative and irrelevant to the proposal.

So once again the EYE project finds itself in an ever increasing cycle of reasons from the parish council as to ‘why not to’. It is with great sadness, therefore, that the EYE team has reluctantly decided that since you, the parish council, is implacably opposed to supporting this youth and community facility on its preferred site, we have no alternative but to now formally hand the project back to you. Perhaps now you will explore some of the less than helpful suggestions you have made to us in the EYE team in the past, and demonstrate how you can deliver a comparable community asset at no cost to precept.

Meanwhile, the EYE team, which has built up an enviable reputation in the community, will explore alternative opportunities for youth provision with interested stakeholders.

JOHN GRIFFIN

on behalf of the The Directors of The Billingshurst Community Partnership, PO Box 28, Billingshurst RH14 9FL

Editor’s note: the report in the County Times of March 14 referred to a land swap between Myrtle Lane and Station Road. It should have referred to the facility being built on Station Road, not Myrtle Lane.