Reasons or excuses

THE BILLINGSHURST Partnership, a group of public-spirited volunteers, wants to create a youth club in Station Road on parish land. The present parish council is refusing to co-operate.

Mrs Rodwell has written to defend this response on the grounds that supporting youth work is not a statutory duty of a parish council so it will ‘pass by on the other side’ (letters April 12), and that it has already ‘discharged their responsibility’ by other projects elsewhere in the village.

It is certainly true that a parish council (PC) is not obliged by statute to provide either schools or youth clubs. All that the law requires of them, by the Allotments Act of 1908, is to provide for allotments on demand, a very limited remit!

All other undertakings are matters of choice so long as they can be administered and funded. PCs have powers to provide such facilities as playing fields, recreation grounds, parks and play areas and to contribute to the provision of such projects by others.

In fact many enlightened PCs, locally and nationwide, make substantial contributions to youth provision, motivated by generosity of spirit towards the young.

They may too think it wise to divert some youngsters from anti-social behaviour who have nothing to do and nowhere to go.

Billingshurst PC has been no exception. It supported ‘The Den’, a drop-in centre, in the 1980s and to its credit has backed skate parks and play areas. Even now it claims to want a youth club in principle.

Illogically and paradoxically, however, it argues that it is ‘not their problem’ so they don’t want it. In particular they do not want the EYE project in Station Road, which many people regard as an ideal venue near the school and the station.

Agreement for the use of a spare piece of public land is surely well within their remit. Thank goodness most PCs recognise their human responsibilities to local people and realise that they should try to help all sections of the community whenever a need is made manifest.

The second argument carries little conviction. It amounts to an evasion of the issue of whether the EYE Project is needed and viable. Mrs Rodwell claims that the PC is already ‘discharging its responsibility in the provision of recreational land’.

That is a conveniently obscure way of saying that is enough to justify its refusal to make the building site available.

If we refuse to help an old lady in distress, it is no excuse for us to say that last Christmas we gave her granddaughter a tube of Smarties.

Authorising the use of a plot of land for a granddad to grow cabbages is no reason for refusing his 15 year old grandson the use of a youth club even though, many years ago, you provided him with a play area and a skate park.

As for the allegation that I indulged in personal attacks, I must ask, ‘Are we not allowed to criticise any governing body when it makes an unwelcome decision?’ My letter attacked no named person but, as is normal in a democracy, asked which of our representatives voted against the project.

Must their individual votes be kept a secret, especially as parish councillors are all politically ‘independent’ and must vote according to their own beliefs? And does she really believe that every majority decision must be ‘respected’?

Obeyed, yes, but respected? Did Mrs Pankhurst or William Wilberforce respect the decisions of the Government of the day? Does a civil and decorous voice raised against the actions of a small majority really amount to a personal attack?

To question whether that unnamed faction had any other motivation than the public good, such as unease at the comparative success and ‘hands-on’ contribution of the partnership, is quite reasonable.

This is specially fitting when ‘valid reasons’ for refusing the project have not been made public. It would help their case if more councillors were to be seen helping at public events as do members of the partnership.

I am proud to support the Weald School in my retirement. I recognise that with the closing of the youth wing some proper alternative provision on an adjacent site would be of great benefit to generations of youngsters living in Billingshurst and other villages who attend the school.

But it is not a statutory duty of the school to provide an out-of-hours facility. I understand the county council, whose obligation it is, is prepared to back the EYE Project and our county and district councillors are also in favour.

It is not ‘the school’ that would benefit. That is only a building, housing an institution.

But it is also the shaper of the future and a great part of the life and memories of all our children and grandchildren, a major section of our community, and the educator of the parishioners of tomorrow. Their well-being and enriched development is what the school is for, and the PC should be proud to contribute to that service.

A petition signed by 451 young people and 266 adults bears witness to that commitment – but I expect that they will say,’Ah, but we have ‘valid reasons’ and four people have written in our support!

They seem not to know the difference between offering real reasons why the project might be flawed and making plausible excuses for doing nothing.

GEOFFREY LAWES

East Street, Billingshurst