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Religion & Politics Don't Mix: Councillors Argue Over Church Hosting Annual Town Meeting

25th March 2018 | By Peter Chapman

Monday's meeting of Burgess Hill Town Council got very heated when a member of the public asked why the council have chosen to hold next month's annual town meeting in a place of worship - St John's Church.

It was a valid question. Burgess Hill is a town of many different faiths. We now have a thriving muslim population and a mosque. A growing number of people do not follow a faith at all. With this in mind, the annual town meeting should surely be held in a secular building which is inclusive of everyone regardless of their faith?

In addition, many people have attended St John's Church for funerals, so it's a venue attached with sad emotions. The annual town meeting has proven to be a 'free-for-all' in recent years with tempers boiling over. Therefore the church is surely the last place that should be hosting a hive of anger? With what's happened in our town over the past 12 months, the level of dissatisfaction with the council is likely to be aired on a whole new level.

St John's Church - Controversially playing host to the 2018 annual town meeting

The council's usual chosen venue - Cyprus Hall - wasn't available this year, this despite the town council changing the date of the meeting and then denying on Monday evening that the date had ever been moved!

We've been told by Cllr Pru Moore that Burgess Hill has lots of other venues in town (hence no reason to replace the Martlets Hall) so why weren't one of those booked instead? The Town Council refused to answer.

Burgess Hill Academy is the obvious choice, lots of free parking and located in the town centre. West Sussex County Council use the Academy to host some of their County Local Committee meetings.

Burgess Hill Town Councillors during the heated debate

After Burgess Hill Town Council chairman Jacqui Landriani tried to sweep the issue under the carpet by not actually providing a proper answer to the local resident, it was down to Cllr Janice Henwood (Lib Dem, Meeds Ward) to raise the issue again at the end of the meeting during the 'any other business' agenda item.

Cllrs Colin Holden, Anne Jones and Richard Cherry (Conservative) all chose to be insulted, completely missing the point that this wasn't a criticism of the church, their role in the community or the christian faith, but merely about selecting an appropriate venue where everyone in the town can feel comfortable in attending.

Audio: Hear what Cllr Anne Jones said:

Just when the Conservatives thought they'd 'won' the argument by complaining the loudest, an unlikely ally for Janice Henwood came forward ..... Cllr Andrew Barrett-Miles.

He delivered an amazing smackdown to his fellow Conservative councillors which stunned them into silence. No response was given!

Audio: Hear Cllr Andrew Barrett-Miles giving the killer reason why the annual town meeting should never be held in a church:

Take Our Poll:

Spread the word! The council fight over the appropriateness of a church playing host to the annual town meeting.

Got an opinion on this story? Leave a comment below.....
Do you think the annual town meeting should be held in a non religious building in order for all members of the community to feel comfortable in attending?

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