West Sussex County Council Settles Park Centre Future With Stern 'Ultimatum' For Town Council
29th October 2023 |
An attempt by Burgess Hill Town Council to try and become the sole trustee of Park Centre has failed after West Sussex County Council allegedly gave them an ultimatum to work with the other community groups via the recently formed Park Centre CIO or that any transfer of the building would be off and the building sold.
In January of this year, Burgess Hill Town Council agreed to be trustees of the Park Centre Charity along with representatives from the Escape Youth Club, Sussex Clubs for Young People and others.
The formal vote among the councillors also included the pledge to provide the finance required to do any essential repairs on the building ahead of the local youth club and other community groups being able to utilise the building once again.
A Bump In The Road
The process of transferring the trusteeship of the building from WSCC to the Park Centre Charity was making progress mid-way through the year, that was until the news broke that Sussex Clubs for Young People had gone into liquidation.
SCYP's CEO Chris Cook chose to remain as a trustee of the Park Centre charity in a personal capacity as he brings a wealth of experience that the centre would need to help it thrive in a new era.
Halt The Process!!!
The demise of Sussex Clubs For Young People opened the door for Burgess Hill Town Council to contact WSCC and ask them to pause the asset transfer
as they now wanted to be considered the sole trustee. Reasons given at a meeting in August stated how the original agreement had changed as Sussex Clubs For Young People would have been the lead organisation and providing finance. Therefore, the town council claimed they needed to step in as it would be unfair for the new chairity to have a financial burden put on them.
The reality is that SCYP never stated that they would be putting in any finance, BHTC was going to be providing it to get things going and voted in January to do just that and were happy to be a trustee along with the other organisations
Opening The Door For The Beehive?
During this unsettled period, there had been reports to BHU of Burgess Hill Town Council speaking privately and publicly of how Park Centre was available to them as an option for the Beehive Community Arts Venue. Even council documentation at the 24th August 2023 Strategic Development Key Area Group meeting referenced an unnamed third option for the Beehive - thought to be Park Centre - after two possible sites with NewRiver at the Martlets Shopping Centre had been ruled out.
If Burgess Hill Town Council had become the sole trustee of the building, it's conceivable that they could have changed the layout of the building to act primarily as a community arts venue. Organisations like the Escape Youth Club may then have been left trying to operate in an unrecognisable facility and forced out of their popular Friday night session in favour of a niche musical act.
Cracks Begin To Appear
At a meeting of the full Town Council on Monday 25th September, Councillors were asked to 'note the notes' from the Strategic Development Key Area Group meeting (held on August 24th where only a verbal update was given) and not actually vote on firming up their intention of trying to secure the building right from under the noses of the Park Centre Charity.
Only Cllr Anne Eves (Green Party) spoke to question why an actual vote wasn't taking place on such a major change of direction.
A member of the public also spoke at this time, claiming the council would be bringing themselves into disrepute for not taking a proper vote and for not providing all the details to the councillors as to the pros and cons of trying to be the sole trustee versus being part of a charity with the other community organisations.
Immediately following the meeting, senior officers and cabinet members at West Sussex County Council
were made aware of Burgess Hill Town Council not holding a democratic vote on their change of direction and that the Town Council's approach to be the sole trustee should be discounted.
Meeting In Private!
Just 4 weeks later (October 23rd) Burgess Hill Town Council held an Extraordinary Meeting of the Full Council where the issue of Park Centre was held in private - a shame because the public were denied the chance to say 'we told you so' - the minutes from the meeting reveal that the Town Council had no option than to stick to the original agreement with the charity - despite all their words on social media and post-meeting in September that this direction was not something they wanted to do.
It's great that West Sussex County Council took this firm stance after months to stalling by Burgess Hill Town Council. Each month that passes is another month robbing the youth of the town access to their Youth Centre - which will thankfully now be able to operate with that focus in mind and not have to worry about the potential to be squeezed out in favour of a tiny arts centre after the Town Council's Beehive project has well and truly hit the buffers.
A brighter future for Park Centre awaits the town, I hope!