Five Cabinet Members had made very specific statements to the effect that
they would be voting to sell the first four of the 26 parks and open spaces
listed for disposal. The sixth, Councillor Peter Craske, had spent ten minutes
explaining why he thought it was a good idea. I think it is a reasonable
assumption to say that their minds were firmly made up, or predetermined as the
Council’s jargon would describe it.
Opposing voices had in the past been excluded from meetings accused of having prejudged the issues but Bexley’s Cabinet is not expected to behave with any pretence of integrity.
So it was rather late in the day to ask Sidcup Councillors Rob Leitch and June Slaughter to say why they thought the Cabinet was making a mistake. Nevertheless, She Who Must Be Obeyed did so.
First to his feet was Rob Leitch. He noted the recommendations with “enormous regret”. He recognised the financial situation but “the disposal of land was a precarious route to pursue because of the dangerous precedent it sets at times of budgetary difficulty”. He felt “enormous discomfort over this decision”.
He had “utter admiration for the residents” and “will continue to do all I can to represent them throughout the remaining stages of this sensitive and difficult issue”.
One minute and forty eight seconds.
Councillor June Slaughter repeated her assertion that Old Farm Park should not be sold and that a Public Inquiry should be held.
She referred to “the dire financial situation in which the Council now finds itself” and how “to some extent that has been brought about by the determination not to increase Council Tax over the last few years”.
“Many people feel that the Council has not given sufficient consideration to the alternatives. These include alternative sites and a Council Tax referendum.”
“Residents have said that Council Tax was held down for far too long and the consultation revealed a willingness to consider real increases.” (See Council’s own Press Release.)
“It was a great disappointment that the General Purposes Committee was not prepared to consider a Public Inquiry and it was justified in my view by the fantastic response to last Summer’s consultation and the one held in December which overwhelmingly opposed the sale. Residents feel that the claims of under use, over provision and of alternative open space were flawed, and aspects of the consultation were also flawed.
The 2014 budget consultation (see Note below) failed to disclose the sites being considered, the 2015 consultation was held in the height of the Summer and the statutory consultation was held during the Christmas period. Publicity given to the consultation was the minimum possible.”
“The Cabinet has indicated its intention to use the revenue saving which will be generated by the use of the sale proceeds to offset further reductions in grounds maintenance, but it has been acknowledged that saving cannot be ring fenced and thus the use of those savings cannot be guaranteed.”
“It was regrettable that the General Purposes Committee refused to consider holding a Public Inquiry which residents felt would be a genuinely independent process. Residents understandably feel that the decision was a done deal.”
“I object to the sale of open space land in principle. Once it is gone it is gone for ever and Bexley’s green spaces make it the borough that it is. There are many who feel that environmental and wild life issues are given insufficient attention in Bexley and promises have a very hollow ring.”
“It has been an honour to represent Old Farm residents, I pay tribute to the amount of time and energy they have devoted to this cause. If this decision is approved I can honestly say that it is the one that I shall regret the most in my forty two years as a member of this Council.”
Six minutes and twenty seven seconds of stony faced glare from the Leader.
If it is such a good idea to sell Old Farm Park and several smaller ones for around £20 million and spend the revenue generated, the interest, on a better maintenance schedule than could otherwise be afforded at those parks that remain, surely there is scope for similar schemes.
It is utterly pointless for the dual carriageway North Cray Road to feed into Bexley High Street that can barely accommodate a bus, so sell the northbound carriageway and build terraced houses. The interest on the proceeds could keep the borough pothole free for ever.
Us Northern dwellers have learned to do without a recycling facility and with the hours of opening being reduced at both Crayford and Foots Cray why not go the whole hog and sell the Foots Cray site? The interest on the capital raised might pay for the free collection of large items of waste and see a reduction in fly tipping.
With more and more Council Services being contracted out, why did Bexley Council spend £42 million on Watling Street when it admitted that a rebuild on the old town hall site would come in at under £30 million? Not making that fundamental error would have saved Old Farm Park. Thanks to Bexley Council’s flawed contract with Tesco it can only stand idly by and watch more astute brains than those to be found in Bexley Council make their millions.
Who elects these clowns? Oh yes, we did.
Note: The 2014 consultation did not reveal which parks were to be sold but asked the public to approve anyway. It was not until the February 2015 Places Scrutiny meeting that Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer decided he had seen enough of the deceit and broke ranks by reading out the list. His spoken comments were published here and the cat having escaped from the bag, Bexley Council owned up the day after BiB provided the answer.