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Sell Churchfields car park? We think not!

Monday 17 February 2020, 15:59
By John Baxter

The free parking sign at Wincanton's Churchfields car park, outside the SSDC offices building

[EDITOR: What follows is the account and opinion of the author, and a statement from the Mayor of Wincanton, Councillor Susan Shelbourn-Barrow, has been included at the bottom.]

I, along with everyone else in the town many other town centre residents, received a leaflet from our two district councillors, Nick Colbert and Colin Winder. It carried the headline, "SSDC PLANS TO SELL OFF CHURCHFIELD CARPARK". Such an idea struck me as barking mad so along with about forty others I turned up at the Area East meeting of South Somerset District Council on Wednesday 12th February to object and hear who could have suggested such a thing.

Many came and spoke pointing out a variety of excellent reasons why selling the car park would be a disaster for the town and absolutely no-one said it would be a good idea. In the end a motion was passed unanimously by the SSDC councillors to the effect that the car park and the green verge should not be sold but remain the property of SSDC. Since no-one appeared to be in favour of selling the car park why had the issue been raised in such a stark and scary way in the first place?

What we learnt however from the meeting and from a question I asked the chairman Councillor Henry Hobhouse at the end, was interesting. He told me that as a result of the heavy cuts imposed on SSDC by central government, council officers have been exploring ways to save money by selling off redundant SSDC properties. Car parks apparently are not something SSDC has a statutory duty to provide. For that reason it appears the sale of Churchfields car park, was considered, together with the sale of the Churchfields building, and someone on the staff of SSDC gained the impression, wrongly, that Wincanton Town Council was in favour of the car park sale.

As a result it was voted through at the December meeting of SSDC. This was subsequently completely rejected by Wincanton Town Council when they heard of it. Unfortunately for personal reasons neither of our district councillors attended that December SSDC meeting, and despite the notification they received of the agenda, neither of them asked that such a serious motion should be postponed so that Wincanton could be represented. If an item is on the agenda, it has to be voted on unless a proper request for a postponement is put in, so it went through without Wincanton representation. Subsequently at the area meeting in January, Nick Colbert and Colin Winder proposed a vote which was held to annul the decision to sell the carpark, as they reported.

This then was the background to the meeting on Wednesday which resulted in the unanimous decision by SSDC's Area East Committee not to sell the car park. Henry Hobhouse concluded that there had been poor communication and a misunderstanding between the Town Council and SSDC but never any intention to force through a sale by SSDC against the will of Wincanton and that it was important that if councillors had to miss meetings that applied to their wards, they should apply for a postponement of the relevant motion. As I heard several say after the meeting, it was a pity, whatever the reason, that did not happen.

John Baxter

 

At the South Somerset Area East Committee meeting, Wednesday 12th February 2020, Wincanton Town Council, its residents and business voices have been heard. We acknowledge those that attended and those that spoke with passion and logic, they demonstrated their care for our community and the people who live and work in our town.

This is a great day for our town as we move forward with our commitment to Wincanton for the Future and the Regeneration Plan lead by South Somerset District Council.

Wincanton Town Council has entered into another three-year compensation agreement to allow free parking on all three car parks in the Town and through our Car Park Committee will be looking at all parking throughout the Town. If you have any suggestions or comments, please contact the Community Office.

 - Councillor Shelbourn-Barrow, Chairman, Wincanton Town Council




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