Stumbling block to progress

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A second lengthy letter from the clerk of Billingshurst Parish Council has appeared in your pages in defence of the policy of a tiny majority of councillors who want to derail the EYE Project to build a youth centre for local youngsters.

Such a defence should surely be made by those councillors who make the policy, not by the clerk whose role as a council officer, though advisory and loyal, should be neutral and impartial. That is what one expects of a Quality Council.

She castigates your reporter for writing a biased account. Be that as it may, fair comment is the prerogative of the press, in sharp contrast with that of a council officer.

As a witness I can testify to the accuracy of your reporter’s story, except for his omission of the single speaker against the project. True the meeting was at first conducted with decorum. An attempt to stifle discussion of the agenda item on a point of order was wisely over-ruled.

Speeches in favour of the scheme by Messrs Hart and Barnes, and from district councillors and others from the floor were received without debate. However when councillor Wilding moved a successful motion to delay making a decision on agreeing to the potential use of land at Station Road until legal advice had been taken the mood of the meeting changed dramatically. The response of the large audience who had turned out to hear a sensible debate on the issue and expected a wise resolution was one of frustration, anger and vocal verbal criticism.

The clerk was quite justified in reminding us of the council’s previous initiatives on behalf of youth, but somewhat economical of the truth.

Four of the projects she cited were, in fact, ventures of the partnership. The council’s part was merely to grant permission to place them on council land. Good decisions made long ago should surely not be used as excuses for denying better provision for present and future young people’s needs.

On the matter of financial responsibility, the ploy of seeking legal advice before agreeing to the principle of permitting the use of the land is clearly a deliberate stumbling block, and seems to arise from a curious resentment of some councillors of the successful work of the partnership.

As I understand it the project is planned at no cost to the parish rate precept. Until use of the land is agreed in principle the partnership negotiators cannot approach their list of grant providers with a viable scheme.

The result is frustration for people of vision. If a proper specification could be produced and tabled for approval by the council it would still be possible to modify anything threatening, or indeed to abandon it altogether, if the project proved unsafe. Putting the cart before the horse is no way to make progress.

I also understand that, contrary to the clerk’s assertions, the WSCC has offered potential garden land at the end of Myrtle Lane which could be swapped with the parish council for the site in question. That land would be useless for a youth centre as a gas main runs through it.

If that exchange happened the county council would certainly be responsible for the projected club. The Weald School cannot offer a suitable site as it is at capacity for its curricular and playground needs already, not to mention the expressed wish of the young people themselves to have a centre off the school premises.

The clerk justifies the present frustrating situation on the proper workings of parish democracy on a majority of one. She makes no reference to the petition signed by 1,301 people who are in favour of the scheme in Station Road. As she rightly says elections come round every four years. The names of those who deliberately put a spoke in the wheel of the project were properly recorded at the meeting and will hopefully be published together with their policies before the next poll takes place.

GEOFFREY LAWES

East Street, Billingshurst