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Bonkers Blog July 2015

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27 July (Part 2) - Splash the cash or slash the splash

While the South deserted the sinking ship leaving the North to man the bilge pumps alone, captain O’Neill ordered her crew to hold their course. First she asked Deputy Director Toni Ainge to repeat the Splash Park case for the prosecution.

The contents of her (allegedly) £40,000 consultant’s report is already well known to those with any interest in the subject and there is no shortage of versions of it.

There’s the Bonkers’ report on the council debate just two weeks ago, the council’s summary of their consultant’s report, the report itself dated May 2015 which cabinet member Craske so very generously arranged to put on line on 19th June, and there is the original consultant’s report dated March, before anyone messed around with it. I’ve had no time to play ‘Spot the Difference’, so if you have time on your hands…

The options are replacement of the existing system, a new mains fed system, or scrapping the Splash Park and installing swings and slides in its place, thereby ending a 100 year old tradition.

Unfortunately Thames Water will not consider any mains based proposal until they see a formal design, and whilst Ms. Ainge did not say so, that will cost money and Bexley council hasn’t got any.

A new recirculating system would cost anything between £175,000 and £380,000 and running costs somewhere between £35,000 and £45,000 a year. Maybe it was a slip of the tongue but that has gone up £3,000 in a fortnight.

None of that is acceptable to Bexley council which has spent the little money available elsewhere and so, quoting Ms. Ainge, “the report being considered by the public cabinet tonight proposes that a period of time is given to see whether it is possible to find a viable way forward to prevent the closure of the facility. It identifies that any potential solution must fully meet the requirements within the report, i.e. that any replacement park is designed in accordance with the consultant’s and specialist suppliers’ design requirement. Secondly that it is supported with a robust, viable and sustainable revenue business plan and thirdly it enables all risks associated with running the facility to be transferred from the council”.

CraskeCouncillor Craske stepped in to say “our position has been clear since last September, it hasn’t changed. We want to see this Splash Park reopen and reopen much better than it is but only on the basis of it being capital and revenue neutral”.

The audience, such is Peter Craske’s track record, was clearly finding his statement less than believable. Where has the money identified by councillor Francis (Labour, Belvedere) gone, and why is a facility that used to cost £20,000 a year to run, (according to Bexley’s own budget savings document) going to cost £45,000 in future?

Maybe all the savings were no better than guesses. Councillor Craske has form for that too - The Residents’ Parking Permits that cost nearly £250 each to administer.

Councillor Craske is easily riled as has been shown many times in the past so he mounted the first of his attacks on the campaigners. He compared them unfavourably with the Historical Society who “constructively” and successfully negotiated the retention of the borough archives in Bexley when the council’s original proposal was to dump them somewhere in Bromley.

It was hardly a fair comparison. The compromise of reducing archive accessibility in Bexley saved money year on year with no additional capital costs. A moment’s thought would show that finding two to four hundred thousand and twenty to forty thousand a year for ever more, plus putting money aside for another possible replacement ten years down the line is not quite the same as finding a home for dusty files and photographs and saving money year after year; but Craske hadn’t given the subject any thought so continued with his ridiculous comparison.

Save“You can set up a campaign that way or you can sit on the sidelines complaining and being negative but not actually come up with a single idea, that’s the same for their ward councillors.”

“Ward councillors have a duty to come forward with their solutions” he said, safe in the knowledge that councillor Francis had been effectively tricked into being an absentee and unable to refute the claim. (For the first time the meeting had been deferred into the school holiday period and caused a diary clash.)

“Examples I have just touched on, I can think of examples in Sidcup ward, Blackfen and in Northumberland Heath councillors campaigned for investment in their town centre. They are the two approaches and each have a different outcome.” Was that a threat?

“I was a bit surprised when I picked up the Bexley Times to see I had refused to meet anyone. I have had a consistent view to everyone, until we got to this decision I wouldn’t meet with anyone. I have consistently to ensure no particular view gets weight over another. I have consistently to every single group said I won’t meet anyone until after this meeting.”

So the Bexley Times was right then, what was Craske complaining about?

He was “disappointed to read that he had refused to meet and people make claims that are not true”.

At election time former cabinet member Sawyer had suggested a meeting as soon as the report was published but the new man on the job replied as follows to the request…

Thank you for your email.

Following my decision to publish in full the report by Watermans about the Splash Park, a report will be presented to the Cabinet shortly for consideration.

Until that time, I won't be meeting anyone, on either side of the arguments.

That is to ensure we have approached the matter with fairness and without one group getting an advantage over any other.

Once the Cabinet has reached a decision, then I am sure there will be opportunities for discussions.

Kind regards

Cllr Peter Craske

ReadPeter Craske may plead he did not refuse a meeting but clearly he did, at least at the time requested. Maybe Philip Read had the right idea.

Cabinet member Craske continued…

“What I don’t understand is why people think it’s solely the job of the council to provide these facilities and why it is only for the state to provide.”

I believe it was included in Faye Ockleford’s deputation, but business participation has been on the agenda ever since the Conservative election candidate persuaded the campaigners that it might be the only viable option.

Craske knows that. He may not have heard a leading campaigner say “Anna Firth has been absolutely brilliant” as I did, but he is absolutely wrong if he thinks her initiative has been rejected. But it may suit him to do so.

Sensing that Craske might be losing the plot, leader O’Neill asked the audience to cease correcting his misinformation.

Craske continued to twist the truth and the audience became ever more annoyed, T. O’N OBE (Obliteration, Banishment, Elimination) threatened them with ejection.

Councillor Craske then shifted his attack to the Labour administration which commissioned the Splash Park. It had run £170,000 over budget and impacted on playground provision elsewhere in the borough. “They also put a stupid plaque up.”

And the relevance to 2015 is?

Getting back on topic he said “there is clearly no point in doing it up to the state it is in now with the same problems”. Has anyone suggested that?

It got worse, he repeated the problems with the water quality identified  by the consultants, and the “water keeps going back and is recirculated and is sent round again and over the years the problem has built up and got worse and worse and there are serious health issues that result from that. There are water borne diseases like Cryptosporidium which is a very serious notifiable disease”.

The public asked how many cases there had been but as before, an embarrassing question resulted in more threats from the chair. For the record there has been no testing for Cryptosporidium.

Sensing once again that things were not going well, councillor Craske switched back to ancient history and a News Shopper report from 2005 that park patrons had suffered diarrhea. It seems prevalent in the council chamber too.

Rapidly changing tack again, councillor Craske said “I think we should listen to what people say and the best way of doing that is to look at the ballot box results. I mean a year after the site opened the people of Belvedere kicked out two of the Labour councillors. At the General Election just gone one candidate put forward a proposal for reopening the facility and that was the Conservative candidate and the News Shopper reported that the campaigners were outraged that someone had put forward a plan to reopen it. The Labour party candidate put forward no plans at all but was elected so I think we should listen to what people say and there’s a pretty good indication of what they said.”

We all voted on the future of the country based on a big puddle? I didn’t, did you?

And as if that wasn’t already pretty far removed from reality Craske added “that I don’t get why people are opposed to a business running it” and the repetition of the same tired untruth provoked more protest from the audience. Maybe Craske was doing it deliberately but it sounded as though he’d absolutely and totally lost the plot.

“People can either spend the next three months complaining and moaning or they can set out the details of their proposals to save the park. We can’t wait for ever and people have got to make up their minds.” True enough I suppose but that is exactly what the campaigners tried to do but Craske didn’t want to know.

I don’t know about you but I cannot take any more of this, Craske is going around in circles getting nowhere, upsetting everyone and shooting off insults and untrue allegations as if we were back in in his 2011 heyday.

Maybe the campaigners will hate me for this, but being of the conservative persuasion myself I was probably the nearest thing Craske had in the public gallery to an ideological friend. I can see absolutely where he is coming from and I can fully appreciates that he has been given a poisonous chalice - serves him right! - but the way he goes around his business is totally ridiculous, obnoxious even.

If even a friend, in that very limited sense, thinks Craske comes across like a rambling arse, what hope is there for a reconciliation with those less sympathetic to his views?

I am aware that this report is far from reading as a well structured piece but I think it may have captured the true nature of cabinet member Peter Craske’s defence of council policy fairly accurately. Rambling, unfocussed and often irrelevant.

Unfortunately there is more of this to come. Give me strength!


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