Yesterday evening saw the first General Purposes Committee of the municipal year, that is since May, with several new Committee Members attending.
The main subject up for discussion was the disposal of six more parks and open spaces to add to the tally of four already up for sale - except that there weren’t six any more, two had fallen by the wayside. Cabinet Member Peter Craske announced only three hours before the meeting that the sale of Napier Road would not raise a significant amount of money and was not worth selling. Less than £100,000 was mentioned during the course of the meeting.
Peter Craske has a track record of offering up sacrificial lambs to the cuts agenda. He was going to cut Lollypop patrols and then thought better of it and portrayed himself as the hero of the hour. He said he would sell Old Manor Way playground even though Council records showed it was prohibited by covenant and riddled with dene holes, but once again he was able to pitch himself as its saviour, and if Napier Road is not worth selling, why the late decision? Its value is no different now to what it would have been when Craske first added it to his list.
The Fraser Road site had been withdrawn from possible sale following advice from Transport for London which left only the sites at Bexley Road and Holly Hill Road in Erith, Millfield Open Space and Maiden Lane both in Crayford.
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) was concerned that most of the Members present, in part because they were new to the Committee, had not received any legal training on how to reach a decision sufficiently robust to withstand a Judicial Review. He returned to the subject several times but the Tories were simply not interested, maybe because they felt that the comparatively small number of objections (single figures in each case) rendered them pretty much immune from that course of action.
Councillor Nigel Betts (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) said that the legal training was of no use.
Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) was rightfully critical of Cabinet Member Craske for putting residents living around Napier Road through months of stress, meetings, petitions and marches, when there was never much likelihood that the site would be sold. With Councillor Peter Craske being notable by his absence there was no realistic prospect of a reasonable excuse for his volte-face being forthcoming.
Councillor Francis thought it was reasonable to know the approximate value of each piece of land being considered for sale so that Members could better judge whether a sale was sensible. His request was refused. He said that the legal training which Councillor Betts thought worthless indicated that he should be in possession of that information. Legally the Council was trying to raise £710,000 by the sale, without monetary information the Council could over achieve the target. Mr. Alabi, the Council’s top legal bod then downplayed the status of the legal training he had given to Councillors, it was not legal advice, it was simply advice. As Alabi appears to have no legal qualifications there is I suppose a certain logic in that.
Councillor Betts then suggested that a vote on the disposal be taken immediately. Not a single site had at that point been debated, only the above generalities. He did the same when the previous sites were put up for sale.
Councillors Hackett and Francis valiantly attempted to keep the discussion going for a further ten minutes and even managed to speak briefly of the Bexley Road site, but Chairman Cafer Munur (Conservative, East Wickham) sided with Councillor Betts when he again called for an immediate vote.
Councillor Francis objected that there were people in the public gallery who had come to hear the debate on the fate of their local park but his concern counted for nothing. Councillor Betts rudely suggested that Councillor Francis had placed bets on how long the meeting could be spun out. All the Conservative hands went up to recommend the sale. Labour and UKIP voted against.
The final part of the meeting was to hear the Chief Executive set out her new vision for the Council. The Buffoon descended from her Ivory Tower to explain herself.
In essence she has rearranged the Titanic’s deckchairs or as she put it, “ְprovided additional capacity in the organisation”. No names were attached to the organisational chart so it is difficult to be sure of who will be doing what in future however it is interesting to note that the job of Monitoring Officer will no longer be Akin Alabi’s; that role will go to the Deputy Director of Human Resources, currently Nick Hollier.
The other thing of note was that the changes will cost us an extra £70,000 a year. Quite why I am not sure because the battery on my audio recorder chose that moment to expire and I rely on it for picking up the detail so easily missed while live listening.