Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Skatepark funding should be fair to all 

THE uproar over the town council’s affirmation of cycling and skateboarding along the seafront, and indeed in all council-owned grounds, including the cemetery, has thrown the spotlight on a wider issue – namely the pending construction of a £150,000 skatepark on the Charmouth Road car park.

This council – at least a majority of them – have been committed to delivering a skatepark for the young people of Lyme Regis - after a debate that had raged for more than 30 years -  before they go the polls next May.

In that time a temporary skatepark was erected in the Lister Gardens and a number of potential sites have been considered including Monmouth Beach and the Anning Road playing field, neither of which were deemed acceptable.

The final selection of a site in the district council–owned car park in Charmouth Road, adjacent to the allotments – was never considered to be the ideal location but the only one available.

In his explosive Council Sketch column last week, Geoff Baker referred to the meeting last April when the council decided to finance the total cost of building the skatepark from their reserves, the only council in this area to do so.Geoff, in his inimitable style, described it as a “back slapping, self-congratulatory” decision. The council chamber was full of skateboaders and supporters, some of whom heaped generous praise on the council for finally delivering for the skateboarding youngsters of Lyme.

The Guildhall audience was staged managed, of course, as is mostly the case when a big issue is to be discussed to put councillors under pressure or to make a point.  Nothing new in that. At that time it was hoped that the skatepark would be up and running by this Christmas.  That prediction is looking a tad optimistic, especially as an application for planning permission has only just gone in after two false starts which councillors described as “frustrating”. “Careless” would be a better word.

At this rate it could well be touch and go if the skatepark is completed before next May’s election, especially as there is likely to be strong opposition from neighbours in Charmouth Road. 

There are two other big issues surrounding the skatepark. The first is the transfer of land from the district council and whether the negotiations over the lucrative Monmouth Beach car park will have any effect on WDDC giving up further car parking space at Charmouth Road. 

As I understand it, the district council have not yet transferred the land but intend to do so when the planning application has been approved, as I’m sure it will.   But there are concerns at Dorchester about the loss of up to 50 car parking spaces which could cost WDDC between £30,000 and £50,000 in lost revenue  every year.

The other concern is why Lyme did not seek any grant aid from WDDC or the National Lottery. WDDC has made a contribution to all the other skateparks in West Dorset, but Lyme council decided to pay for the park by using their combined resources, previously allocated to various other projects in the town.

I applaud the council for their determination to deliver the skatepark, although like many others I have doubts about how many youngsters will use the facility, but they should finance the project in the most cost effective manner for all sections of the community by offering match funding, i.e. agreeing to contribute £75,000 if the skateboarders raised a similar amount through fundraising and grant aids.

This is a view shared by many in town, some of whom are reluctant to complain and be labelled anti-youth or to decry the fundraising efforts of new councillor Cheryl Reynolds,who has worked so hard  for the cause in recent times.

The chosen method of funding the skatepark is perfectly legal – but is it fair to all council taxpayers in Lyme? 

You will have to make your own mind up on that one.

A final hiccup in the long running church railings saga . . .

LAST week in this column I wrote about the long running saga of the church railings and praised the town council for funding the project.

I was prompted to do so because several people mentioned to me how nice the new Portland stone coping stones looked.  But it would seem that those same people were left scratching  their heads when they realised that some of the crumbling  old blue lias coping stones were being retained, contrasting badly with the pristine Portland stone.  It looked ridiculous.

Questions were asked at last week’s Town Management meeting, chaired by Chris Clipson, whom I praised for keeping his promise to deliver the new railings at St Michael’s Parish Church during the life of this PR-gaff proned council.

The reason, curious councillors were told, was that they had been told that as much of the old wall/railings had to be retained.

However, I am now informed that the contractors have been told to take out the old blue lias stones and to complete the wall with Portland stone coping stones.

I understand that the church was inundated with complaints about the stupidity of mixing the two.  Several locals came into our office drawing attention to it, posing the question “If the powers that be wanted to retain some of the old ones, why did they not chose new blue lias stones?”

I am also told by a church official that the final scheme agreed with planners and the diocese was exactly the same as that mooted when it was first agreed that the railings needed replacing – in 1994. Twenty years ago!

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