On Wednesday 9 May 2012, a committee of Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council upheld the earlier decision to reserve a 20m wide strip across Daniel Park for a possible road, despite the Council having originally offered the whole of the site in the QEII Fields Challenge for local residents to vote upon. See the video below.
Moving the Goalposts
The Council had submitted 14 sites to the Field in Trust charity as contenders to receive the designation as a protected recreation ground, as part of the celebrations of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Games in London. The Council wanted just 1 winning site, chosen by a public vote.
A number of other local authorities across the country decided to dedicate several open spaces as QEII Fields without seeing the need for competitions.
After Daniel Park won the vote, the Council chose to change the boundary of the field to be protected.
Last Ditch Chance
Cllr Keith Watts led the ‘last ditch’ chance to protect the entire site. He and Cllr Eric Dunlop used the ‘call-in’ process, where the previous decisions would be open for scrutiny by the ‘Economic Prosperity and Performance Overview Committee’.
Local resident Kathy Edwards addressed the committee and told them that they had the opportunity to “reinstate faith in local democracy”.
Cllr Watts quoted a report from an independent lawyer that said “the Council was clearly doing things in reverse” and “the Council intended to consult then decide to offer any particular site”. He went on to say that this was not what the public and elected Councillors had been told.
The desired outcome was to allow the Full 60-member Council resolve the issue of how much land should be dedicated as a QEII Field.
But the Committee wouldn’t move – they upheld the previous decision to reserve the land for possible road access to the Knowlings Field for an estimated 200 houses, without going to Full Council.
A Sad Day
The QEII Fields-In-Trust charity was to verify the suitability of sites put forward by Councils and ensure a Framework Deed was signed by the Local Authority before any public vote. The Council did not sign the Framework Deed and independent legal advice said “the Framework Deed is not a document the Council could lawfully have entered into at any time in the process…”
As one campaigner put it,
“To see both the Council and a renowned charity lose more credibility is a sad day for fairplay and both should hang their heads in shame.“
The national satirical magazine Private Eye covered the Council’s original decision in Issue 1312.
Residents Let Down
Those residents who voted for the whole park, in accordance with the original terms of the vote, say they have been let down by both the Council and the Fields in Trust charity by failing to honour the result, in what seems to be more a political decision rather that something that should be honouring the Queen, her Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
They claim the Park may now be remembered by many as a memorial to when democracy and fairplay was thrown out of the window, and with the recent High Court ruling against the Borough Council on the Manydown housing issue, both Councillors and officers will have a long way to go to rebuild trust.
The Council will now be drawing up a Deed of Dedication for the remainder of the Park.