Scheme is now being mothballed

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I write in response to the letter printed in last week’s paper by Billingshurst Parish Clerk, Beverely Bell, with regards to the parish council’s response to this paper’s previous article about the EYE Project.

Firstly, I must point out that it was Billingshurst Community Partnership that initiated, led, fundraised and managed the projects for the Station Road Multi Court and Youth Shelter, the Lower Station Road goal posts and basket ball hoop, not the parish council.

The Skate Park was a parish council project but again, initiated by the community partnership and young people from Billingshurst. While it is true that the parish council contributed circa £20,000 towards the Skate Park, they made a condition that the young people had to ‘prove they wanted it badly enough’ by doing their own fundraising towards the ramps. This they did with the support and help of the community partnership.

It would be fair to say that all the equipment for teenagers we have in Billingshurst exists only because of long hard battles I personally have had with the parish council to convince them they have a duty of care to provide recreational facilities for our teenagers. It was not easy!

Let us assume for just one minute that the suggestion that the parish council is responsible for the above mentioned equipment is true. All of the above is already there, it exists, it is done.

The letter written by the clerk suggests that our parish council considers it has already done enough for young people and highlights just how much is wrong with the way it thinks and tells us a lot about how it operates.

It is delusional, it is backwards looking, always looking to the past, always looking over its shoulder at what happened before and never thinking forward to the future.

Inevitably, when you’re always looking backwards you bump into things because you can’t see what’s ahead of you!

Our parish council is stuck somewhere between the times of feudal England and the beginning of the industrial revolution. It cannot, or will not, see the needs of people in the 21st century (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the expression ‘when I was a lad…’ or ‘in my day…’ or something similar when I’ve attended parish council meetings).

As a director of the community partnership I am often asked by members of the public what is going on between the parish council and the community partnership? Why do we always seem to be in conflict with each other?

The answer is simple. The parish council is backward thinking always looking to the past not daring to do anything it hasn’t done before.

The community partnership by contrast is forward thinking, innovative and takes a pro-active role in this community’s development. The parish council is incapable of being creative or progressive, the community partnership by contrast is masterful at this because it talks with people and involves itself with all levels of Billingshurst life from grass roots to county and national levels seeking advice and help from those experts relevant to its projects.

The parish council refuses to engage with people who do not concur with its opinions. The community partnership by contrast will initiate constructive dialogues with any groups or individuals that don’t understand its perspectives to resolve issues.

In my opinion parish councils are an outdated and obsolete relic of the past that have no place in vibrant growing communities like 21st century Billingshurst. Our parish council is uncomfortable and incapable of dealing with the tasks that it faces with regards to the well-being and quality of life of its residents and therefore chooses to ignore, refuse or stall projects that it sees as being too progressive because it can’t see how those projects could possibly be managed or be successful. It can’t or won’t see the future needs of our community. The arguments over the EYE project have highlighted this more than ever.

The parish council forgets that it is there to fulfil the wishes and serve this community. If we really must have a parish council, residents need to make sure that it is working for them not itself and its own self-serving interests.

The parish council needs to remember that the assets it holds in trust are for the residents of Billingshurst, they are not the assets of the parish council per se. Understandably, not everyone is in favour of EYE being built on the Station Road site, (but I have to say from our surveys they are in a minority). It is mostly because they fear it will affect their quality of life and amenity in some way.

They are entitled to their opinion and we would welcome a debate with them to quell their fears at the appropriate time.

However, the overwhelming majority of people that we have petitioned (over a period of three years) are in favour of there being a dedicated youth facility in Billingshurst. It is noteworthy that the parish council refuses to accept the evidence and petitions we have presented it with saying they aren’t valid.

At the same time, it has refused to conduct its own survey considering it to be a waste of time and money! This is not democratic! Perhaps it is fearful of an outcome which might force it to have to bow to public pressure? The clerk is right in saying that the parish council hasn’t actually said no!

But at the last full council meeting it did refuse to debate the proposition to allow the EYE project to move forward in principle.

Instead a counter proposition to seek legal advice before the basic principle was agreed upon was accepted. This is putting the cart before the horse! This is like paying for a costly house survey to be done on a house you like the look of before you’ve even put an offer in!

Thousands of pounds of Billingshurst parishioners’ money will be spent doing this. It is a stalling and delaying tactic intended to scupper the project.

Of course all legal issues will have to be dealt with, but at an appropriate time. This is not now! This is a costly and unnecessary course of action at this time, and is not the way business project management is ever done in the world beyond parish councils!

Not all parish councillors are against this project and I would urge those individuals to keep fighting to move this project forward.

Personally, I feel the only thing that will make the parish council make a definitive decision about EYE is if the public make their feelings known and do it loudly!

I would urge everyone to do this. Write to our district councillors, write to this paper, attend parish council meetings and let your feelings be known.

In the meantime, the EYE project is being mothballed.

There is nothing more the community partnership can do without the parish council’s permission to use this small, insignificant, and inaccessible piece of land.

DENISE CAMPBELL

Member of the core group for EYE, a director of the community partnership and its youth projects leader, although I write this letter as an individual, Natts Lane, Billingshurst