So much damage has been done

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I must state from the outset that I write this letter personally and not on behalf of Billingshurst Parish Council. I am not going to argue in favour or against the EYE Project being located in Station Road, Billingshurst.

People reading arguments from both sides are probably heartily fed up with it all now and from what I hear and read, the reputations of both the parish council AND community partnership are suffering as a result.

I personally would have liked the EYE team to have been able to move on to the next stage but have to accept that a democratic decision was made, a difficult decision, and we must now try to work with that decision.

I wanted to comment more so on the general relationship between the parish council, and community partnership. Such relationships can often prove difficult as is demonstrated in other areas throughout the country.

Community partnerships and parish councils should and do work together for the whole community, and it seems to have been forgotten that for the past decade or so this is what has happened in Billingshurst, the parish council often supporting the running of the partnership as well as projects it is involved in; this remains the case.

That does not mean that the council has supported or contributed to every project the partnership has asked it to, and nor should it feel obliged to.

However, the two groups have demonstrated that they can work together to achieve things. In doing so, they should often share the credits rather than try to point score as to who instigated this, who provided that etc.

Mrs Campbell mentions the Skate Park at Jubilee Fields saying that it was ‘a condition that the young people had to prove they wanted it badly enough by doing their own fundraising towards the ramps’; this is unfair and misleading.

It was not a condition, but it did not seem unreasonable in the early stages for the council to look for some sort of commitment from the youngsters regarding what turned out to be a £40,000-plus project.

At the time, Mrs Campbell seemed very happy with the idea that the youngsters do some fundraising. I am pleased to say they rose to the occasion brilliantly in a number of ways and the facility remains incredibly popular today. The skate park is a good example of what can be achieved when the council, partnership and local community work together.

Whereas the two groups should work together for the community they also have fundamental differences and responsibilities, two of the most obvious being that the council spends public money and is responsible for a number of pieces of land in the parish.

I have always struggled to understand why people on both groups sometimes fail to accept, understand and most crucially work with and around these differences.

Instead, as demonstrated in recent editions of the WSCT, sometimes if people do not get the decision they were hoping for, they go into out and out attack mode, making comments (sometimes offensive, unfair and misleading), that will do nothing not only to help a particular project, but will just continue to drive a larger wedge between the two groups.

I am starting to wonder if that is what some people want, and it is ultimately the community that suffers. We certainly now know of one partnership member who would much rather the council did not exist, I wonder what the 1,000-plus people who voted in the parish council election in May 2011 think of this?

It is also ironic, as it was the council that instigated the setting up of the partnership in the first place as it realised all those years ago, that partnerships can play an important part in their communities, especially in the case of attracting funding not open to local authorities.

It would seem that Mrs Campbell would prefer to see parish councils abolished (‘parish councils are an outdated and obsolete relic of the past that have no place in vibrant growing communities….’) and that perhaps community partnerships take over?

I feel that the electorate are probably best placed to make that judgement. What might prove interesting to help gauge people’s views on this, would be to compare the number of people who voted for their parish councillors in May 2011 to the number of people who voted members of the partnership into their positions.

I think that it is worth mentioning that in my experience since May 2011, a majority of criticisms and complaints levelled at the parish council or its members have come from people involved with, or previously involved with Billingshurst Community Partnership, rarely from others. Maybe the council is not doing as bad a job as some would like us to believe.

If the two groups really have the community at heart some of their members should stop all this fighting and mudslinging and when the two groups cannot agree firstly try to resolve their differences, but then move on in a calm and respectful way to the next project.

So much damage has been done in recent weeks, largely in the pages of the WSCT that I now wonder whether the relationship between the two groups will ever be fixed although I’d be delighted to be proved wrong.

In my 2012 chairman’s report which can be found as part of the council’s annual report on the parish council’s website and is summarised in the council’s latest newsletter, I said ‘Whilst needing to respect and understand the differences between the groups, members of both the council and the partnership must do their utmost to work together for the community; it is what our community expects and deserves. One of my main hopes in the coming year is that the two groups will work together more than ever before and I look to individual members of both organisations to help achieve this’. I threw down the gauntlet then, and I do so again now.

PAUL BERRY

Nightingale Walk, Billingshurst