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Category Archives: Marston’s

west byfleet play area

Here’s a picture of children enjoying the new, improved play area at West Byfleet recreation ground. Two very significant events in West Byfleet have taken place in the last couple of weeks – the reopening of the refurbished play area, still next to the school; and confirmation in a terse, two-paragraph press release from Woking borough council that the pub group Marston’s will not be proceeding with their plan to build a pub/restaurant on the rec.

The WBC press release , headed “Statement regarding West Byfleet recreation ground”,  said: “Woking Borough Council has today (Tuesday 16 April 2019) confirmed that Marstons will no longer be pursuing proposals for a pub/restaurant and new sports changing facilities in West Byfleet.

“The Council will now consider how it could secure the necessary resources and investment to improve sports changing facilities at West Byfleet Recreation Ground for the benefit of current and future users.”

Was that the distant sound of gnashing and gritted teeth in the council HQ? There was no reference in this statement to the fact that the council, without consulting residents, and as trustee of the rec, had entered into a deal with Marston’s, and had refused to backtrack on it despite the vociferous opposition of residents. In the end it was Marston’s that did the sensible thing, and backed away from the deal.

The plea area was linked to all this. At one time residents were promised a vastly enhanced play area, if they agreed that it should be moved away from the school, close to the main road – to allow Marston’s to build their pub there instead. They voted against such a scheme in huge numbers, preferring a more modest refurbishment that would keep the play area in its existing spot.

It may be that Woking council officers and councillors thought they were doing the folk of West Byfleet a favour by entering into a deal with Marston’s. Certainly they were taken by surprise by the – let’s not mince words – the odium they encountered as a result. At a council meeting last autumn they professed to be shocked, hurt, and misunderstood.

Maybe they will have learned a lesson from all this. Woking borough council is not at all used to not getting its own way. But a fresh, younger generation of families in West Byfleet, supported to the hilt by local residents’ groups, made full use of social media to win their campaign.  It may be no coincidence that the area has been represented by three Independent councillors for the last couple of years. And just a week or two ago a  Conservative councillor in nearby Pyrford defected to the Lib Dems, saying, among other things, that residents had not been properly consulted on key decisions such as plans for a pub/restaurant on West Byfleet recreation ground, “a site held by the borough only as a trustee for local residents”. And there are council elections again on Thursday!

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.”

wb park 2

Residents groups in West Byfleet have made an official complaint to the Charity Commission about Woking council’s “unlawful” plan to sell off part of West Byfleet recreation ground to a pub group. At the same time a descendant of the land’s original benefactor has backed residents protesting about the plans, saying that they would “certainly fly in the face of Frederick Stoop’s vision for West Byfleet. The Stoop family feel very strongly that this space should be used for the benefit of all residents in West Byfleet as a recreation area for adults and children alike.”

A joint press release from West Byfleet Neighbourhood Forum and the Residents Association outlines in full their submission to the Charity Commission. They claim that Woking council has failed “to properly fulfil its legal duties as sole trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity” and has also failed to “address the conflict of interest in it being the trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity and the planning authority which will ultimately decide the planning decision”.

Its full press release says:

  • On 2nd August we submitted a complaint to the Charity Commission on behalf of the stakeholders of West Byfleet Recreation Ground about the failure of Woking Borough Council to properly fulfil its legal duties as sole trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity.
  • On 16 and 18 July 2018 a group of stakeholders wrote to WBC about our concerns regarding their conduct and their management.
  • The Recreation Ground Charity was established in 1913 after a piece of land (now known as West Byfleet Recreation Ground) was gifted to the charity to be used “as and for a Recreation Ground for the inhabitants of the Parish of Byfleet”.
  • The Recreation Ground Charity (charity number 304985) still exists today. The trustee, following several local government reorganisations over the last century, is now Woking Borough Council.
  • For a body to be a charity, it must be independent. It must exist and operate solely for charitable purposes and not as a means of carrying out the policies or directions of a local authority.
  • The Councillors’ Guide; to a council’s role as charity trustee produced by the Charity Commission and Local Government Association sets out how a local authority can manage charitable trusts safely including keeping management of the charity separate from the business of the local authority, keeping the finances of the charity separate from those of the council and producing annual statements of accounts under charity law.
  • On 28 June 2018 at a meeting of WBC Executive the Leader of the Council announced that WBC Executive had agreed on 2 February 2017 to sell part of the Recreation Ground to Marstons’ plc once Marston’s plc have obtained planning permission for a pub restaurant. We believe this to be unlawful.
  • We do not believe that the sale of any part of West Byfleet Recreation Ground can be in the best interests of the Recreation Ground Charity as the use to which the land would be put by the proposed buyer is not consistent with the purpose of the charity.
  • Woking Borough Council and its Executive have failed to address the conflict of interest in it being the trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity and the planning authority which will ultimately decide the planning decision about allowing a pub on the Recreation Ground.
  • Woking Borough Council has not submitted any annual returns for the Recreation Ground Charity in the last five years and states in its accounts that the charity has no income or expenditure.”

 

Meanwhile Michael Stoop, in a message to residents, has said:  “I would just like to add further to the objections you have already received from various members of the Stoop family that this land was bequeathed to the residents of West Byfleet to provide the village an outside sanctuary for future generations to enjoy.

“To allow …  Marston’s to build a pub on part of this land, would certainly fly in the face of Frederick Stoop’s vision for West Byfleet. The Stoop family feel very strongly that this space should be used for the benefit of all residents in West Byfleet as a recreation area for adults and children alike. I would certainly like to show my own grandchildren the beauty of West Byfleet’s recreational area without the eyesore of another unwanted pub!

“I hope with the support of the entire Stoop family and the local residents, this ‘hare-brained scheme’ is dismissed by the local planners.”

wb park 1

This is the story of a public scandal. It involves Woking borough council secretly making a deal with a pub firm to sell off part of a local recreation ground, without telling or consulting residents in advance.

The story began almost exactly a year ago when residents in West Byfleet attending the annual event in their local park provided by the council – West Byfleet Live – were startled to find a stand there manned by staff from the Midlands pub firm Marston’s, who were keen to tell them about a plan to build one of their pubs on the recreation ground, very close to local schools and a play area. The Marston’s people seemed to expect a delighted reaction to their plan, which includes a new sports pavilion and car park, and the only input they were looking from residents was: any suggestions for the name of the pub?

They didn’t get the reaction they were expecting, on the whole – and a year on, a row is growing about the secretive and arrogant behaviour of Woking council in this matter.

West Byfleet Residents Association has been asking for details and documents about the meeting where the council’s executive made the decision to sell the land, subject to planning approval. So far the council leader John Bittleston has appeared reluctant to provide them. Separately, Wokingmatters understand that Mr Bittleston has suggested that if the council reneges on its agreement with Marston’s, it would destroy its reputation in the commercial markets and its ability to make future, similar deals. The residents association is understood to be considering legal action to challenge the council’s right to sell off recreation land in this way.

wb park 5

The situation has been made more complicated for the council – and more emotive for local families – by the fact that several years ago children and parents started an online petition calling for the play area within the recreation ground to be refurbished. They were awarded money by Surrey county council and won the backing of Woking council to fix broken equipment and update some of the play area. But the project seemed to be taking a rather long time to get the green light.

Then a couple of months ago they were surprised to be offered a £300,000 playground on a different part of the recreation ground by Woking council, involving much more money than the original planned refurbishment. Around the same time Marston’s held a public consultation displaying plans for their pub on the recreation ground, with the brewery’s display suggesting it would not be possible to retain the play area on its current site, next to one of the schools, which has always been handy for parents picking up children at the end of the school day. Woking council is now offering a vote on the site for the play area, although there is no guarantee that the council will abide by the outcome. (There is also no suggestion that the increased amount of money offered for a new play area represents a council bribe to facilitate the Marston’s development, m’lud).

The headteacher of the junior school, Lesley Lawrence, was quoted by the Surrey Comet as saying: “It’s a natural community centre for the children and the parents at the beginning and end of the school day. It’s vital for their community to play and meet and greet. The proposal for the alternative being a pub is completely outrageous and totally unacceptable and will damage the community and opportunities for children and parents.” There are children’s protest posters attached to the fencing of the children’s play area – and more protest posters outside West Byfleet Bowls Club, too.

The West Byfleet Live event on the recreation ground has been an annual fixture since the Olympic cycle race in 2012, and now marks the yearly cycle event from London through West Byfleet. But the council’s behaviour in the matter of Marston’s reveals the reality of its “we know what’s good for you”, “bread and circuses” approach to local residents. The increasing impression is that those leading Woking council are only interested in corporations, and not communities. The council leader’s argument about commercial confidence may well be a load of old Canopy, anyway. Maybe it is up to Marston’s to do the decent thing, in the face of overwhelming public hostility, and withdraw its plan – to buttress its own reputation, and to save Woking council’s face at the same time.

West Byfleet wbc