Last night’s Cabinet meeting was a game of two halves, the formal killing off of the Belvedere
Splash Park which was conducted in a civilised manner, and the discussion on the Capital and Financial
Plans during which certain individuals reverted to type.
First a word of thanks to the Committee Officer, Kevin Fox, who had arranged the chamber rather more sensibly than is usually the case. Perhaps the public sitting behind councillors etc. will be a thing of the past now that it has been demonstrated how the arrangement puts tablet screens within range of long lenses.
There was some possibility that financial discussions might wander into areas that Bexley Council would rather keep secret and the Council Leader correctly called for a vote to be taken to authorise ejection of the public, all four of us. This is in marked contrast to the chairmanship of Councillor Cheryl Bacon at the Code of Conduct Sub-Committee meeting looking into Councillor Fothergill’s alleged misdeeds.
Councillor Bacon broke every rule in the book, among them making up her own mind that the public were not wanted and throwing them out without a word of debate; for which she is now the subject of a formal complaint.
That the Splash Park would close has never been in doubt since Bexley Council announced it without consultation in October 2014 and doctored the consultant’s report to make sure it said what they wanted it to say. The dreaded word Cryptosporidium was introduced because the first version inconveniently failed to state that it had been found at dangerous levels - because it hadn’t.
It fell to Council Officer Toni Ainge to give the official excuse for doing away with 100 years of watery tradition. She said it would cost too much to repair and too much to keep going. That, I think, we already knew was the Council’s position.
Eight organisations expressed an interest in running the Splash Park despite the imposition of draconian conditions by Bexley Council. “To fully resolve all design issues, to provide a reliable and robust business plan with no cost to the Council and the Council was indemnified against all risk.” Having seen the near impossible conditions only one organisation went on to make a formal submission and it was judged inadequate.
The Splash Park will therefore be decommissioned and alternative play facilities will be considered.
Councillor Peter Craske was asked to elaborate. Peter Craske is not the man he once was. Gone are the days when he could be relied upon to fib his heart out and insult all and sundry, an hour or two in police custody appears to have changed all that and it may not be long before he is transformed from almost lovable old rogue to a reliable and straight member of a slightly crooked team.
His of course is not an easy hand to play with practically all the resident-facing hot potatoes in his hand. His messages are rarely popular but having been dealt a thoroughly bad hand he has learned to play it with a certain amount of panache.
He regretted that “the financial risks couldn’t make it work, in the end it hasn’t worked out”. He didn’t think the taxpayer should be asked to take on that risk either. He was instead going to design a new facility which was “innovative and forward looking”. A “key element” would be to provide all year round facilities for people with disabilities or special needs. He was “looking at £120 to £150,000 as a budget” but then slightly confused the issue by speaking of £250,000 with indications the extra may come from charitable sources. Cory Environmental remain interested.
Councillor Craske completely disowned the rumours that the park on the other side of Woolwich Road would be closed and expected the refreshment kiosk to cover the day to day expenditure on the Splash Park site. It will be “a significant investment in Belvedere”. He would find it “staggering” if his ideas were criticised. “It is something that everyone will surely welcome”.
Councillor Linda Bailey said that that when the initial announcement was made, “residents were concerned but would now be comforted”. She congratulated everyone who breathed.
The opposition councillors did not give Councillor Craske quite such an easy ride as perhaps I have done. Councillor Gill MacDonald (Labour, Belvedere) was “disappointed” but pleased that the park opposite was not going to be redeveloped. She pointed out that the cost of decommissioning the Splash Park and creating a new play facility was broadly similar to renewing the Splash Park. Council Leader O’Neill reminded her that the difference was the ongoing costs associated with the latter, thereby admitting that those costs are the principal reason for the closure decision. £20,000 per annum when the closure was first announced rising to £40,000 when the first figure no longer suited them.
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) made similar points and welcomed Councillor Craske’s assurance that neither of the Woolwich Road parks would be sold. He reiterated the point that the capital costs have not changed significantly and that the Splash Park has been axed to save the £20,000 maintenance cost. Council Leader O’Neill said it was closed because no business had been able to meet the Council’s requirements. A fine bit of nonsense if ever there was one.
UKIP Councillor Colin McGannon lent his support to Councillor Craske’s scheme and with that the death knell was sounded unanimously. More than 100 years of tradition ended in just nineteen minutes.