This second report on the Splash Park debate leading to the inevitable vote to carry on regardless must be something of an anti-climax without any significant contribution from cabinet member Craske. After he eventually digressed and distorted his way to a standstill, cabinet member Massey picked up the reins. Could he do better? Could anyone do worse?
He welcomed the publication of (the carefully reconstructed) technical report and the “real, serious and tangible issues that must be addressed and not easily resolved”. It will require “substantial investment whichever option is chosen” and “there are revenue implications as well”.
“We are not in a position to blank cheque any more and any solution must fit in with the budget constraints. I think it is right to postpone the decision for a few months so it can allow any interested party to come up with a solution. If not, by the end of the year, a dry solution will need to be formulated.”
Not bad. Nothing new, nothing we didn’t know already. Wisely, no other cabinet member wished to nail their colours to the mast. Councillors were invited to make a contribution to the debate.
No Conservative councillor said a word in favour of the Splash Park so as usual all the real scrutiny of decisions came from Labour.
Seán Newman‘s first question was why cabinet member Craske felt it was “prejudicial to meet with residents’ groups” and his second to suggest an apology was in order from him after “attacking the Splash Park group and insulting their intelligence and does not show anywhere that he really wants a constructive outcome to this. Councillor Sawyer earlier talked aboout cynicism over consultations. If we look at the front page of the pink Agenda paper it say Listening to you, Working for you. Well let’s listen. Overwhelmingly, local residents not just in Belvedere, said No, No, do not close our Splash park, but it is still on the agenda.”
“There was a request for a special meeting by six members of this council. It was denied. Unreasonably denied. I have this to say to members opposite, residents will keep on coming back and their voice will be heard.” Cheers and applause.
Craske repeated his denial that he refused to meet residents by referring once again to his email refusing a meeting. Strange man. Stranger still, he attempted to turn the tables on councillor Newman by asking him a question having forgotten that cabinet meetings are to enable councillors to question the cabinet.
There was of course no apology to the residents for the insults.
Councillor Cafer Munir (Conservative, East Wickham) wanted to stir things a little by accusing the opposition of the same. “The opposition have been extremely reckless in downplaying the health hazard. If they spent less time stirring the issue for cheap political points than actually coming to a solution we may very well be sitting here having a totally different conversation”. He asked about the “dry solution” which gave councillor Craske the opportunity to deny that the site would be built on.
Councillor Gill MacDonald objected to Craske’s assertion that she and other local councillors were not involved in the community and provided him with ample evidence that she and her colleagues were very much involved in the community, as anyone who resides to the North of the borough will know.
Her question was about the huge number of restrictions placed on “any potential operator” of the Splash Park and the provision of a mains water system, during which she revealed that Thames Water’s assessment fee would be between £30,000 and £50,000.
Councillor Craske accepted that her concerns for the Splash Park were genuine and then drifted off into his well rehearsed “cost neutral” speech.
Councillor Colin McGannon (UKIP, Colyers) felt “that we are spending too much time scoring points here when what we should be doing is setting up working parties to work with the community to help salvage these things. We are more interested in scoring those political points than solving the problem“. Widespread audience applause.
The trouble with these UKIP upstarts is that they have yet to realise that Bexley council’s idea of democracy is sham consultations and that Listening to you, Working for you is a meaningless sham slogan. But top marks for trying, councillor McGannon.
The leader gave Colin’s idea the thumbs down by saying they were going to wait for three months to see if any commercial interests approached them. Councillor McGannon thought the council should be more proactive.
Councillor David Leaf said “safety has to be a priority” and reeled off a list of things extracted from the council’s version of the consultant’s report.
Councillor Joe Ferreira thought it was unfair that opposition members were accused of not coming forward with ideas for the Splash Park when that was far from the truth. He wanted to know what sort of help the council would give to anyone who might wish to run the Splash Park and he didn’t like the “it’s down to you” attitude.
There was no answer.
Councillor Stefano Borella said that the campaigners were not “complainers and moaners“ but were concerned about “the facility they are worried about losing” and “they are not against another group coming in and running this, it’s not something I have heard about the group, they are open to that suggestion”.
Contrary to the suggestion that Labour has come up with no proposals they had come up with many and “at the time of the Belvedere Splash Park closure there were no proposals from the Conservative benches.”
I was wondering when someone might remember that, the council simply announced the closure. Game Over! It was the campaigners and Labour councillors who came up with ideas to save it, no one else. Certainly not Peter Craske.
Stefano asked what would happen to the children’s playground on the other side of Woolwich Road if a new one was built on the site of the Splash Park. The answer from Deputy Director Ainge was to have both but target them at different age ranges.
With no other questions asked or answered Deputy Leader Sawyer began his own summing up by stating that the technical report options were “never hidden from the public at all. The purpose of the report was not to look into steps that might save the Splash Park, it was to look into the options that might actually make the water safer”.
He “took no personal satisfaction in this report bearing out pretty much everything I said” at public meetings “where I took a fair amount of flak”. There was “some misconceptions about what I said”.
“It was said I had alluded to the fact [on November 1st] that we had had an outbreak of Cryptosporidium. Fortunately I have the note of that meeting and I said e-coli and what I loosely termed nasties.”
After painting dire warnings about the health risks Alex Sawyer said “It was about the children and that is where our focus should be”. Maybe he should speak to Peter Craske, for him it is about the money.
But then Sawyer changed his tune and said it was about the money. “It’s not about the capital it’s the revenue. It’s about the money on a year on year basis. That is why the conditions [for commercial operation] are so steep.”
“We do not come into politics to try and close things down.” How many times have we heard that now?
The leader asked councillor Craske “to wrap up”.
He said he wanted “the facility to open as a better facility than it is now”.
In an attempt to prove his pro-Splash Park credentials he said, “we did not put forward an alternative facility to the Splash Park In 2005 because we didn’t oppose it. We were quite happy for it to open, we thought it was a great facility and we have kept it going for ten years”. Which was rather different to what I have heard in the council chamber before when it was said that all the problems were Labour’s for implementing a mad and badly executed idea in the first place.
The leader said it was a really good debate so she called a vote to defer for three months the decision to close the park while awaiting commercial proposals. It was carried 100% of course and we must wait to see what transpires. There will be a public meeting tomorrow evening.