Recently the Executive of Wokingham Borough Council voted to take over the management of Bulmershe Leisure Centre from April 2014. The Wokingham Borough Councillors received a report stating that Woodley Town Council had indicated that it would like to give up the Bulmershe Lease before March 2015 and that the town council had indicated in October that they were willing to surrender the lease from Apr 2014. This was a big shock to councillors as they had not made any decision regarding the future of the leisure centre
At Tuesday’s (4th Feb 2014) Strategy and Resources committee meeting Lib Dem members of Woodley’s S+R committee were furious that the Town Council committees or Full Council had not been involved in any decision about surrendering the lease early.
Beth Rowland, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Woodley said “It is disgraceful if Wokingham Borough Council have been given any indication about the town council’s approach to the end of the Bulmershe lease prior to the issue being discussed by members of the council” she added “All town councillors were democratically elected to make these decisions, it is not down to the personal opinion of one person”.
Beth added “This lack of transparency means that town councillors may have been asked to make decisions, such as the youth club at Bulmershe without the knowledge that an indication about the future of Bulmershe Leisure Centre had already been given to the borough council by the town council”
The town clerk has confirmed that no such indication had been made by officers.
Phil Challis, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group said “There is no Executive Leadership role in the town council; we make decisions by committees and full council meetings”. He went on “I was pleased we got cross party support for a Lib Dem request to ask Wokingham Borough Council how they gained the impression that this decision had already been made, although I do regret that Cllr Baker and his deputy leader voted against. This issue challenges the fundamental principal about how towns and boroughs work together.”
Tory controlled Wokingham Borough Council is siphoning off money given to them by the government to pass on to towns and parishes. Woodley has lost out on over £30,000 this year and will lose as increasing amount in future, a total of about £160,000 over the next three years
The Tories controlling Woodley Town Council are proposing to use Woodley Town reserves to cover up the gap in the towns funding.
Phil Challis, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Woodley said “The Tories are proposing to use £59,000 of town council reserves to replace the money that has effectively been stolen by Wokingham Borough Council” He continued “In an effort to hide this they are also planning to reduce the precept. It is like smoke and mirrors really.”
Sam Rahmouni, Lib Dem member for Bulmershe said “This reserve has been built up by Woodley residents over the years to fund major projects. It is required to help Woodley provide services to the additional 1000 houses that the Tories have said can be built in Woodley – it should not be frittered away.”
Cllr Keith Baker is not only the Tory Leader of the Council at Woodley Town Council; he is also part of the decision making Tory Executive at Wokingham Borough.
Beth Rowland, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Woodley said “As leader of Woodley Town Council, Cllr Baker should be speaking up for Woodley not propping up the Tories on Wokingham Borough Council by using the town’s hard won savings to cover up the robbery of government funds meant for Woodley”
Phil Challis said “At S+R we tabled Lib Dem budget proposals that would have achieved a 2.3% reduction in the household precept, reduced charges on facilities for Woodley residents, reduced price increases for pensioners, protected the general reserve and to fully fund the Citizen’s Advice Bureau”
Wokingham’s Liberal Democrats are delighted that the controversial Town Centre plans which include building on Elms Field have been withdrawn and welcome the pause in the process. However, they are very concerned that this is nothing more than a tactical withdrawal, and urge the campaign and its supporters to carry on the fight.
Leader of Wokingham’s Lib Dems and member of the Save Elms Field Campaign, Cllr Prue Bray said “The campaign so far has been very successful in bringing the issue into the open and increasing public awareness of the Conservatives’ plans. The rally, petition and Extraordinary Council meeting to debate the petition have demonstrated just how much opposition there is to these plans.”
Prue added, “This pause is not because the Conservatives have changed their minds about building on Elms Field and so the campaign will continue. It is vital that we make sure this is not just a temporary pause but a complete change of heart. The Liberal Democrats will redouble our efforts to make sure any future plans do not destroy Elms Field as it currently is, and reflect what residents want, and are the best for Wokingham.”