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Woking council

A refurbished children’s play area at West Byfleet recreation ground can remain in its present location next to West Byfleet junior school, Woking council’s executive agreed on Thursday night. Plans will now be set in motion to upgrade the play area at a cost of £60,000, after a public consultation conducted by the council voted resoundingly to keep the play area where it is – even though an alternative location at the recreation ground would have attracted £300,000 worth of investment in new equipment.

The reason that so many in West Byfleet voted to keep the play area where it is was that they feared that the alternative next to the school would be a pub. But Thursday’s council meeting and decision left a number of questions unanswered. These include:

 

Why was so much more money available if the play area was moved away from the school and close to the main Parvis Road? Was it to do with the plan by Marston’s to site a pub/ restaurant on the recreation ground?

Could some of that extra cash for the alternative location be spent on the play area refurbishment anyway?

Why did council leader David Bittleston say the question of the pub plan was not up for debate at Thursday’s night’s meeting because “it had already been dealt with”? What did he mean by that?

Why did Lib Dem councillor Ann-Marie Barker’s question about other plans for the recreation ground go answered?

Why was the council’s chief executive Ray Morgan not at the meeting? He may have had a perfectly good, private reason for not attending, but without clarification it seemed odd.

 West Byfleet park campaigners Rebecca and Emma

The meeting heard from campaigners Rebecca Bradshaw and Emma Slaymaker, pictured above, who will be involved in discussions about the new play area. Rebecca explained that their campaign and fundraising began after the slide was placed out of bounds. She also talked about the seesawing situation regarding the seesaw, which kept being removed, put back, and then removed again.

David LIttleston Woking council

Discussion of the agenda item began with a statement from councillor Bittleston, pictured above,  saying that he had been “shocked, upset and disappointed” by some comments and accusations aimed at himself and other members and officers of the council that had been made on social media about the recreation ground issue.

Councillor Colin Kemp, who will be in charge of the play area renovations, said neither location option would have affected plans for a pub on the recreation ground, and it was “sad” to see posters saying “Save Our Recreation Ground”, which he insisted were “very misleading”.

Councillor Davis Woking councilAnd councillor Kevin Davis, pictured above, in a statement which he warned in advance would be “rambling”, again voiced the general sense of bafflement and hurt feelings among councillors by saying social media comments such as being labelled a “vile, corrupt council” were “very disappointing … it just isn’t on, in my opinion”. He added that the change.org petition  sent in on the issue was invalid, and had included signatures from Basle in Switzerland and Sydney in Australia.

Two of Byfleet and West Byfleet’s three Independent councillors, Amanda Boote and John Bond, were at the meeting and raised questions to which they did not always receive adequate answers.

Meanwhile West Byfleet Neighbourhood Forum residents group has sent another letter to the chairman of Marstons about the company’s plans for a pub on the recreation ground. It says: “On previous occasions Wade Pollard, chairman of West Byfleet Neighbourhood Forum, has written to your predecessor to express deep misgivings about the purported agreement between Marston’s PLC and Woking borough council (‘WBC’). There has been a total failure to respond. That is very unfortunate.”

It says that the group has lodged a formal complaint with the Charity Commission regarding WBC’s conduct as sole trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity (‘RGC’), and adds that “the Marston’s PLC board and internal legal function should be aware of the following:

  1. WBRG [West Byfleet recreation ground] is owned by RGC not WBC;
  2. Any agreement between Marston’s PLC and WBC regarding a purchase and/or lease of part of RGC is null and void;
  3. WBC’s conduct in purporting to agree to sell and/or lease part of RGC to Marston’s PLC is unlawful (any agreement could only be with WBC as trustee of RGC and as such would have to be as in conformity with RGC’s charitable purpose); and
  4. If the Charity Commission finds that Marston’s PLC was aware of 1 & 3 above it could name it in any enforcement notice issued.

“We would urge Marston’s PLC to think very carefully about pursuing this development … A belated response to our original letter was finally received from WBC on 17 August. It failed to respond substantively to the points raised but did acknowledge that ‘…As you rightly state the land is held by the council as trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity…’ and gave an assurance ‘… that no legal relationship currently exists with Marstons in respect of West Byfleet recreation ground.’ ‘’

The residents’ group says: “We imagine that considerable sums have already been spent on architects, town and country planners and other professionals. We are sure that this money has been entirely wasted. We suspect that both institutional and individual shareholders would be extremely concerned if further expenditure was undertaken on a project that will fail and we will not hesitate to inform them of what has occurred.

“Marston’s PLC should also be aware we will pursue all legal avenues to prevent this development, including a planning enquiry and judicial review proceedings.

“Marston’s PLC should also note that following a recent public consultation by WBC, West Byfleet residents voted by a margin of 1101 to 24 in favour of refurbishing and expanding the playground on WBRG and keeping it in its present location.”

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