In response to Mrs Campell’s letter ( County Times August 9), I should like to explore some of the issues she raises .
She describes Billingshurst Parish Council as ‘delusional’, ‘backward looking’, outdated, with ‘no place for this organisation in 21st century Billingshurst’.
Mrs Campbell, is, of course, entitled to her opinion but I would suggest this is unjust, unsupported by evidence and that such an opinion has minority support in the village. Our present parish council was elected just over a year ago, 18 candidates contesting 15 places. Two councillors have subsequently resigned and their replacements were not elected by residents. Every councillor elected received over 500 votes. The oldest councillor (‘age’ seems to be an issue) received 922 votes, a testament perhaps to his experience and integrity. Councillor Wilding, whose ‘adjournment’ proposal has been responsible for the postponement of the Eye project discussion, is a new councillor who is noted for her enthusiastic, robust and thorough approach. She polled 1,018 votes, the second highest. Voting is an optional process and I believe the Billingshurst residents have spoken : this 21st century parish council represents an organisation chosen by the residents for the residents, thus contradicting the ‘anachronism’ suggestion of Mrs Campbell.
Is this parish council ‘backward looking’? Mrs Campbell gives no example, other than their caution displayed over the Eye project. In their first year in office, it seems the parish council has moved many things forward ; the allotments, skateboard park, Station Road gardens etc. Perhaps Mrs Campbell is referring to the parish council’s stance on the development plans for the East of Billingshurst?! A pre-Industrial Revolution analogy is used by Mrs Campbell to reinforce her ‘backward looking’ claim: well, yes, many of us would prefer to retain our ‘green and pleasant land’ as opposed to the ‘dark Satanic mills’ of over-development! I suggest the parish council’s ‘No’ to development is a direct response of the council’s listening to residents and supporting them. In the embryonic stages of the discussion on this development issue, while the (then) Billingshurst Community Partnership chairman was anticipating the ‘lovely 106 money’ which would accrue, councillors were taking on board the residents’ concern about the unnecessary expansion of our village. This resulted in our present parish council sending a clear ‘No development’ message to the planning authority in Horsham.
Mrs Campbell accuses the council of ‘not daring to do anything it hasn’t done before’. Well, opposing the planning authority is probably a ‘first’! While I do not suggest that the Billingshurst Community Partnership has an overt pro-development policy (although the directors I have spoken to made their pro-development stance absolutely clear), the organisation does rely much more now on 106 (‘development’) money for its projects and I understand that this particular development application carries a possible £200, 000 106 grant for the Eye project.
Mrs Campbell criticises the decision of the parish council to seek relevant legal advice before making a commitment which will involve leases, responsibility of trustees etc.
I believe that decision to be absolutely correct and responsible and in line with parish councillors’ obligation to act ‘in good faith’. Fortunately some parish councillors are aware of their obligations not just as councillors, but as trustees . Ignorance of these issues by an earlier parish council resulted in a costly error for which the village is still paying. This must NEVER happen again!
The Billingshurst Community Partnership Ltd has no such responsibilities : it has no code of conduct or practice and its directors have the normal protection of a company limited by guarantee. The Eye project leader has stated that he is not interested in the past or future, but just getting the project done. That is fine for a project manager who can walk away when the project is complete but someone has overall responsibility when that project becomes a reality.To date it would be the Billingshurst Parish Council which would have that responsibility.
Mrs Campbell refers in her letter to the ‘Eye project’ and to a ‘dedicated youth facility’. As far as I am aware no one has opposed either in principle with the contentious issues involving responsibility, landownership and location.
However, I would like to make a suggestion to Mrs Campbell that, as a youth leader, and in the best interests of all Billingshurst youth, she rethink the location of the dedicated youth facility. While I worked for a short time with Mrs Campbell at TAG in the village hall I was aware that the youth who attended did not want to be associated with a school youth wing which was still in operation at the Weald and under-used. It was also clear that the hall was eminently unsuitable as a youth facility as it essentially lacked the outside open space area for ‘chilling out’ and informal recreational pursuits. The car park was considered a safety risk.
I suggest that the envisaged location for the Eye project building is almost as unsuitable. It is bounded by swimming pool, Wakoos, building, the car park and a (soon to be) designer garden. Moreover it is very near The Weald School and this, together with school use of the Eye project building, could carry the same negative vibes for some Billingshurst youth.
I suggest that the ideal location for a youth facility is Jubilee fields. Both the land and the pavilion were originally intended for all community use and for such purposes they are under used. It could be deemed the responsibility of the Billingshurst Parish Council to facilitate this. Hence, the remaining various uses of the Eye project building could not be deemed as the responsibility of the parish council.
Any subsequent negotiations to acquire (purchase, land swap) the desired piece of parish council land should be conducted in an equitable, business like and pressure free manner with respect for the parish council’s option to refuse.
Mrs Campbell suggests that residents write to the WSCT to make their views known. I would suggest that productive dialogue can only take place where there is a willingness of parties to listen, not to jump to conclusions, and to communicate in a respectful manner.
Forge Way, Billingshurst