I have sympathy with Mr Lawes’ and Mrs Campbell’s disappointment with the Billingshurst Parish council’s decision to adjourn the Eye project until there is advice from its solicitor but, would like to address some of their comments (County Times, August 9).
The Station Road Multi Court and Youth Shelter cost in the region of £58,000 with £40,000 developer / (s106) being used. The shelter had a Bluetooth radio operated by a rooftop solar panel and was enclosed by perspex windows to keep out the elements. No young person was asked to contribute and barely two years later, the Bluetooth radio has been torn out of its housing and the perspex in the shelter vandalised. The precept maintains it and it will be the precept that pays for any repair.
Mrs Campbell asks ‘Why do we always seem to be in conflict with each other?’ and believes the answer is that the parish council is backward thinking and the BCP has many glowing attributes that the parish council has not.
Naturally, not my opinion… a parish council is NOT a local community group, it is an elected body governed by legislature with fiduciary limitations and duties. Procedures can be slow… too slow for some, nevertheless it is a democratic process which has its principles in law.
The parish council understands its obligations to the assets that it holds in trust for Billingshurst which is precisely the reason for the adjournment. The community partnership had already sought their own legal advice on the entity which would be ‘a charitable company limited by guarantee’. BCP propose a £1,000,000 project, any failure of project, company, or ‘if the project proved unsafe’ the directors can walk away without any consequence to themselves except for a liability of £10. By whatever means the land is leased, no safeguards have been given and nobody in their right mind - even a councillor with ‘self-serving interest’ - would be foolish to consider a lease on land for a building without seeking legal advice. It would seem it is fine for the BCP to have their legal advice but not the parish council, not business- like, forward thinking or 21st century.
The analogy of looking at a house and having a costly survey done before putting in an offer is ridiculous but no more so than drawing up plans for a large extension on your neighbour’s land without allowing him proper consultation or legal advice.
In February 2011, after a presentation of the Eye project, the then parish council gave a vote of confidence to the Eye team without knowing until later for what they had voted! I would add, they were unaware of the full facts!
The parish council should take legal advice on a lease. Without it the process could be extremely costly to the precept maybe not in the short term but in the long run. The cost of the planning application may have been in the region of £20,000 which, if the legal advice was then to refuse, could mean a catastrophic loss to the BCP funds or s106 community money. And further vitriolic comment!
Mr Lawes understands the democratic voting system; voting by petition is not a process in the 21st century. Contrary to comments in his letter, all communications from the parish council to any media has to be approved by a vote in committee, once approved it is the clerk who signs it on behalf of the parish council. An ex-district councillor who attended Billingshurst Parish Council meetings should know this! Discussion of the two-page coverage in the West Sussex County Times can be found under minute 144/12 Finance and General Purposes Committee 25th July, 2012. It was unanimously agreed to send a copy to the WSCT on behalf of the parish council for publication. The clerk was and is impartial; her overall responsibility is to give advice and carry out the policy decisions of the council which she does excellently.
Mr Lawes’ assumption that WSCC has offered Myrtle Lane as a substitute for parish land was mentioned by the BCP and their description of the land in Myrtle Lane was ‘there is no commercial value in this piece of land’. However, the parish land described as ‘small, insignificant, and inaccessible piece of land’ by Mrs Campbell is being developed as a garden, a valuable, open space, green asset for the whole community to enjoy. Hardly a substitute, Mr Lawes!
The County Times report was inaccurate, the Eye team did not ‘jeer aggressively’, had they done they would have been asked by the chairman to leave. They were understandably upset but three were invited by the chairman to ‘have their last say before leaving’ including Mr Lawes.
My second reason for an adjournment was awaiting information from the statutory bodies, on Mrs Campbell’s advice! By email I was told when requesting information, again by Mrs Campbell, ‘To my mind the only consideration for the PC at this time is why they cannot lease the land for the EYE project. All other remaining questions you may have, however relevant in the grand scheme are not necessary and are just white noise. They can be answered at an appropriate time when we have agreement that we can lease the land’. Truly, the cart before the horse and, for a parish councillor a dereliction of responsibility for a parish asset! Information came from statutory bodies on 23rd July 2012 and 30th July, 2012.
Mrs Campbell states ‘But at the last full council meeting it did refuse to debate the proposition to allow the EYE project to move forward in principle’. Incorrect and misleading, it voted to adjourn the agenda item.
2009 March – Letter in the West Sussex County Times stating that ‘the Billingshurst Parish Council had no plans to put a building on Station Road Gardens’.
2010 – The Billingshurst Community Partnership was ‘having detailed discussion with the Weald School regarding a site on campus and an educational dimension’.
BCP – ‘The community partnership has sought and received a much wider brief for such a facility from both county and district councils as well as the education and youth authorities and in particular the local secondary school (The Weald). The Weald is extremely keen to access additional areas close to the school which would offer flexible usage in the day time and additional youth facilities after school hours. Both county youth (WSCC) and educational services have responded positively to our proposals and give the project their full support’.
Funds have been given by West Sussex County Council (£9,500) and Horsham District Council (£5,000); HDC printed and paid for the EYE leaflets. This was public money paid by our principal authorities to a community group who do not have access to land for this project to go upon. The Weald Youth Wing was not closed by WSCC, ‘it was transferred to the operational management of the school, which they have subsequently utilised. Funds were passed to the EYE team chairman’.
Clearly the Weald School will be the beneficiary of any EYE project building and yet we learn that it is a community school ‘on lock down’ in the evenings. This is a spacious building which is no longer accessible for community use. Eye team members, also school governors, inform that ‘The Weald School will need 20 – 25 additional classrooms. Land is available at the Weald School to accommodate this. The governors are already in detailed discussion with WSCC’. Information from WSCC said that this addition to the Weald is ‘based on the assumption that for every development of 1,000 houses a form of entry will need to be catered for i.e. 30 pupils per year of school age’. Large scale development in Billingshurst was refused recently.
With some of the EYE team’s undoubted links to the Weald school; Mrs Campbell’s accusation of parish councillors having self-serving interests seems more than duplicitous.
The survey originated from the Weald School, but no one is asking why the Weald School ‘with land available’ is not prepared to make provision for the EYE. Youth provision worked well on campus for the Weald Youth Wing, Cuthman’s and Rydon and Mr MacAteer (WSCT reporter) was extolling the virtues of the Forest Youth Wing on campus.
It is surprising that, as an ex-headmaster of the Weald School, Mr Lawes isn’t giving his backing to this creative, progressive and innovative idea. Perhaps BCP’s masterful, constructive dialogue should be directed to WSCC and the Weald School governors!
CONNEXIONS may have been destined for accommodation in the EYE building. However, following legislative changes by government in the Education Act 2011 responsibility for careers information, advice and guidance passed from the local authority to schools. The duty starts from 1st September 2012; a Weald School duty.
West Sussex County Council, whether there is an Eye building or not, has statutory responsibility for targeted groups: NEETS, youth offenders and re-offenders, looked after children, teenage parents, young carers and young people with disabilities.
An article I read about community initiatives sums up the question Mrs Campbell said members of the community ask her about conflict between the groups. It asked ‘How is the openness in the governance of a community group ensured?’ How is the community group accountable to the community? How are financial accountability, legal requirements and integrity assured? How far should community groups be bound by the policies of principal local authorities? The answers to these questions are clear for local councils as they are governed by a legislative framework providing for electoral procedures governing open government, legality and integrity. The answers for community groups are far from clear. Problems will arise if issues raised above are not faced’.
Though I do not speak on behalf of the Billingshurst Parish Council, I can assure both Mrs Campbell and Mr Lawes, when it votes with regard to the ‘mothballed’ Eye project, it will be democratic.
LESLEY WILDING (Mrs)