Cllr David Parsons, the Conservative leader of Leicestershire County Council, says it is not his Council who are being unreasonable. They are protecting a school playing field. It is wrong for others to collect fees for its use while the Council pays the maintenance cost.
Rosie Featherstone’s recent article on Conservative Home regarding community facilities at Breedon on the Hill and Leicestershire County Council is, to put it mildly, a travesty of the truth.
As a matter of fact, Leicestershire County Council is a high achieving, successful county authority, recently voted Council of the Year 2009 at the Local Government Chronicle national awards. It achieved this accolade by providing strong political leadership and good working relationships between members and officers.
If the Community Association really is so concerned about the costs to the Council Taxpayers of Leicestershire, then she needs to explain why the Community Association (by whom she has been employed to carry out their PR), has instructed a solicitor to act in such a way as to run up legal costs of between £50,000 and £60,000 per week, in an effort challenging the County Council in the High Court. These costs are out of all proportion to the issues at stake. The County Council has had to incur substantial legal costs of its own, responding to their challenges.
Also, back in 2007, the Community Association was given exclusive occupation of the community wing attached to the primary school in question (St Hardulph’s). They refused an offer made in 2007 and repeated in 2009, of a lease of the community wing at a peppercorn rent, on the basis they pay the costs associated with their use.
It is the Community Association who currently charge members of the community who use the community wing, but say that they should be able to hold on to all that money and that the costs incurred should be met by the Council Taxpayers of Leicestershire.
Similarly, the Community Association insist that when they, or the community, use the school hall out of hours, they should not have to pay anything. Again, they think these costs should be paid by the Council Taxpayer.
As Rosie Featherstone well knows, community groups and sports organisations such as the local football club are able to hire the school playing field by arrangement with the school governing body. They pay a user charge to cover the costs of maintaining the playing field incurred by the school. What the County Council objects to, is the Community Association hiring out the school playing field without the governing body’s knowledge, charging users and refusing to make any payment to the school.
Both the County Council and the school’s governing body want the community to be able to use the facilities at the school. We are committed to that. The designated trial judge, Gavin Lightman QC, has been critical of the costs that have been incurred and has urged the parties to resolve their differences through mediation and negotiation. One mediation meeting, under the direction of a mediator nominated by the Community Association, has already taken place and that mediator offered to continue the process as a direct conduit between the parties without involving the lawyers. That offer was also rejected by the Community Association.
The County Council has, as a result, had to find another mediator who is currently seeking to explore settlement initiatives. In the light of these and the attempts by the County Council to resolve the dispute amicably, Rosie Featherstone’s article, which borders on the defamatory, is to put it mildly, very disappointing.