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Financial Concerns over Parish Council Decision

September 19, 2006 by  

Some years ago the council tax raised by Hawkwell Parish Council was much lower than it is now.  If memory serves me correctly it was about £50,000 per annum and when the Spencers and Magnolia Open Spaces were taken over the  costs increased to the high 80’s and now over 100,000.

So when the Council decided to take over the Glencroft Open Space, I was concerned that the costs were fully understood before the land was taken over rather than discovered as the project proceeded.

When Hawkwell Parish Councl took the decision to take over the Glencroft Open Space on 12 June 2006  this was made without any presentation of the way it was to be managed and by implication the costs that will be incurred on a permanent basis together with those additional capital costs of plant and equipment that will be required,

As the Open Space is being taken over from Rochford District Council it would have been appropriate to find out exactly what current costs are being incurred by RDC.  This has not be done.

I supported, with another 6 Councillors, a Motion on Notice to rescind the Council decision made on 12th June regarding the Glencroft Open Space.

Unfortunately the vote to protect your financial insterests was narrowly lost 8/6 and the project will proceed on a hand to mouth basis with the Parks Committee asking for money as required.  What this will do to the figure raised as council tax I do not know.

This is the letter I sent to all councillors before the meeting in an attempt to get them to not commit unless the costs were known.

I understand that this may have interpreted that I am against taking on Glencroft as a matter of principle. This is not so and I am sending you this letter to reassure you that this is not the case and to explain the reasons why the original decision has become subject to a Motion for Rescission.

The first Motion on Notice signed by 7 Councillors asked for re-consideration of the decision because it was not believed that the decision had been taken with all the information necessary for a proper decision to be taken by Council. The Chairman of the Council asked the EALC for advice and the Chairman was advised that a Motion for re-consideration could not be accepted. Through the Clerk we were advised that the decision could only be rescinded. This was not what was desired but the only remaining procedure is to ask the Council to rescind the original decision made on 12 June and then ,at a later date, re-consider the proposal and make a proper decision with all the information necessary.

If you will recall the Chairman determined that the decision on the Motion he put to Council on 12 June could only be taken as put in the (unapproved) Minutes of Parks Committee. It was also ruled, I recall, by the Chairman that there could be no debate on the Motion.

As a result of this I believe that the Council made the decision without understanding the financial impact of the proposal. Whether or not this could lead to any form of personal surcharge I do not know but I took the only safe decision on 12 June but to vote against in order to protect the interests of the Council, Residents, my family and myself. It is now only possible to put this right if Council rescinds the decision made on 12 June and start again.

But I understand that Hawkwell Parish Council has already been in touch with Rochford District Council to take forward the transfer. What I do not know is if Hawkwell Parish Council is now legally bound and committed to proceeding notwithstanding that I believe that a proper decision was not taken.

The decision was taken without the following information.

• Why did the Council still wish to take Glencroft over when Rochford District Council has created a safety net for all of its other Open Spaces with the National Playing Fields Association. In short there is no need to transfer it to the Parish Council to protect Green Belt So why is it being transferred? This was not discussed.

• Why did the Parks Committee not present a full report and business case bearing in mind that it wished to have a decision from Full Council?

• Is the Council’s objective to maintain the Open Space in the same way and to the same standard as the District Council? This information was not provided.

1. If the case is to maintain the status quo then will it cost more or less?

2. If the case is to improve the standard then what will it cost?

3. If the case is for improvement without an increase in spending on Parks then what will the affect be on the standard of maintenance for Spencers or Magnolia?

• The full finance case (Revex and Capex over 5 years) was not presented and I did not understand what the Council was being asked to approve or commit to as above and as follows.

1. The matter of the need to purchase new machinery was mentioned by the Chairman of Parks but not admitted to the decision making process.

2. In addition I understand that the cost of emptying the litter and dog faeces bins is still not known. I have provided the Clerk to the Council with contacts in both RDC and Service Team in order to be able to ascertain this cost.

3. What cost of vandalism has been incurred by RDC?

• I did not understand why Finance Committee had not been asked to review the financial case prior to any Full Council debate. In view of the potential impact on the basis of future precept strategy then I believe that the Finance Committee must be asked to report on this before a decision is made.

• Given that our Parks employee is due to retire in early 2007, what is the contingency for all Parks Maintenance especially when another open space is being taken on. Would the current resourcing be sufficient to maintain all three Parks to the same current standard?

Over and above this we all owe a duty to those who elected us to ensure that all decisions of Council are made with all necessary information available. In this case the District Council can now protect the Open Space itself and, therefore justification for transfer must be made on the grounds of an improved public amenity against the financial and operational implications to the Council.

There is another issue on which there would appear to be a major misunderstanding. At a Hawkwell Parish Council Planning Committee, in the presence of the public, I was questioned on my voting at RDC on the matter of the White House, 1 Southend Road, HOCKLEY. For the record the position is as follows;

There have been two applications. I voted against the first one and this was refused. At the second application I voted in favour, like some other Members, because there were no planning grounds for refusal. At Appeal the Planning Inspector concurred with the first decision of Council to refuse permission but disagreed the second decision to refuse. This was a complete justification of the way I voted. Nevertheless I do not condone the action of the developer to demolish the building and create an eyesore which was, unfortunately, legal and RDC could not stop it.

I would also mention that I have been advised that inappropriate remarks may have been made about me at another Planning Committee Meeting, when I was absent and I have asked the Chairman to take up my complaint.

I hope that this letter helps explain my position on a number of issues.

I do not mind any criticism whatsoever which is accurately based on the public record and the facts. But during the recent District Council Election I was dismayed to encounter inaccurate claims and personal attacks in the form of abusive fly posting. So if you are thinking that I have been oversensitive in matters concerning the Parish Council then I hope that you will also bear this in mind.

Regards

John Mason

Comments

Comments

2 Responses to “Financial Concerns over Parish Council Decision”
  1. admin says:

    I have read your email and attached copy letter.

    On matters such as the taking over of the Glencroft Open Space, the appointed auditor cannot intervene, in the decision making process of the council.

    The matter would however need to be considered by the auditor if an elector (a councillor or other resident) wrote to the auditor in the context of the audit of the council for the year ended 31 March 2007 (or later years) to make a formal objection against an item or items of expenditure related to the taking over of the Glencroft Open Space.

    In the absence of formal objection it may also be of interest to the auditor in the conduct of the audit if the financial implications of such expenditure were drawn to his attention.

    In the absence of more details, it is difficult to be more specific.

    Councillors cannot be surcharged anymore. This system changed some years ago. I hope this is helpful.

    Yours sincerely
    Laurence Newman
    Lubbock Fine Tel: +44 (0)20 7490 7766 Fax: +44 (0)20 7490 5102 Web: http://www.lubbockfine.co.uk

  2. admin says:

    John

    Further to your request for legal advice on the above matter, John Honey has asked me to respond to your query in his absence.

    Magnolia, Spencers and Glencroft public open spaces are all within the green belt, designated for recreational purposes in the development plan, subject to covenants restricting their use to open space within their deeds and in the case of Magnolia has further protection as a local nature reserve under the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act.

    Notwithstanding these restrictions any proposal to sell such areas would also require separate ministerial consent under the Local Government Act. Given these constraints the possibility of sale for residential development is extremely improbable if not impossible.

    None of the areas are subject to Trust with the National Playing fields Association although this could be created if there was some benefit to
    such an arrangement and all parties were in agreement.

    I hope this is helpful but please contact me if you need any further information

    Regards

    Albert Bugeja
    Head of Legal Services
    Rochford District Council

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