After Council officers had assured Councillor Francis that they had conducted all the consultations, investigations and researches into the sale of Old Farm Park and its smaller brethren perfectly and there really was nothing at all to worry about because the few people who used them could easily go elsewhere, Councillor James Hunt (Conservative, East Wickham) decided to be first off the starting block with further comments.
He said he was unhappy about the extensive redactions in the Agenda and asked why Burr Farm was still reserved. Deputy Director Toni Ainge said the redactions were the email addresses of objectors.
Mrs. Richardson said that Burr Farm was being retained “because of the population pressures we will be facing. It is part of our education planning”. Her foresight may be commendable but it’s a pity that green space planning has turned its back on the future. James Hunt had promised to be brief and he was as good as his word.
Councillor Sharon Massey (Conservative, Danson Park) was “disappointed that Councillor Francis had not raised his questions with officers before”. That is a thought I have frequently had about all council meetings but if that became the norm would there be a need for any public meetings?
I think one must accept that there is an element of theatre about public council meetings, they are there only because the law says they must be. The ball is batted to and fro but nothing ever changes and total non-answers are too frequently accepted because pursuing them further is just a waste of time. The massive Conservative majority under an intransigent Leader will always win.
Councillor Massey said she had liaised with Ms. Ainge over “many months”. “I have lived in the borough over 50 years and a member of this council 18 years, we have to make tough decisions and a downside of being the governing party is that you make decisions the public do not like. I live walking distance from Old Farm Park, I was there yesterday. It’s a place I go to, I use it. In the next couple of years we will probably have even tougher decisions to make. Over 55 pence in every pound we spend is spent on social care, it is a massive priority”.
The cry of “absolute nonsense” from the public gallery was met with “People cannot convince me just by being abusive, it is an unconvincing argument I'm hearing from the public gallery. Stand for election, it is open to anyone. I am here tonight to do what is best for Bexley as a whole. I had a harder problem with West Street [than Old Farm] because I see that as having a higher number of residents impacted by our decision than they will in Sidcup. The decision tonight will not determine what will be built or not built on that land. All we are suggesting is where this goes next with the legal process. If it goes up for sale the people in the public gallery could purchase it if they wish to put in a planning application”.
“Anyone going up to London by train on a Sunday can see that the left side is full of football and play area and on the right side it is pretty empty. I go there regularly and I rarely see anybody. That’s all I wanted to say but I would like some clarification about the air quality.”
The air quality question was answered by Deputy Director Toni Ainge (£84,264 per annum plus £4,590 towards a car and 20·6% of salary taxpayer contribution to her pension fund) who said the figure was “twenty two to twenty three - I am not quite sure what the measure is - but the national objective is forty”.
Somewhat belatedly a question asked earlier by Councillor Francis was answered. “The residual [unsold} part of Old Farm Park is two hectares and the part to be sold off is 1·45.”
This was hotly disputed by residents in the public gallery who are very familiar with the published plans. “Sorry but you are not leaving a bigger part than you are taking.”
There was no consensus on this and the Chairman, anxious as always to gloss over any weaknesses in the council’s case, asked if any other councillor had a question.
Councillor Chris Beazley (UKIP, St. Michael’s) returned to a theme that had been jumped on at a previous meeting. The sale of “properties that the Council rents out. The Broadway shopping centre produces an income of a million pounds but a fifty million sale [a figure based on a similar property sale in Portsmouth] would easily fill the black hole”.
The answer from Deputy Director Jane Richardson was that shopping centres could not be sold because they are on a long lease.
Councillor Beazley said that doctor’s surgeries and schools around Old Farm Park were all over subscribed. Ms. Richardson said she was working with the Clinical Commissioning Group to resolve the capacity problems and school places are kept under weekly review but “currently there is no problem in Sidcup”.
With all questions and alternative strategies safely dismissed it was time for Sidcup Councillor Rob Leitch to line up his weapons, as reported a week ago.