Why will the village not have a Health and Community Centre?
Why am I writing this document?
We are being criticised for being negative about the signing of a lease between the Parish Council and the Pre-school which will provide the village with a Community room. The claim is that all the community services planned for the Health and Community Centre will be available. We are asked to regard this as a valuable asset for the village. I have never believed in celebrating failure. Following a period of extremely stubborn behaviour by your Parish Council, (your representatives), they have destroyed a plan to provide a full Health and Community centre, this without any consultation. The village has been given the booby prize and we are supposed to be grateful? Please read on for all the facts.
A Health and Community Centre was promised by me as the then chairman of the Parish Council. This was based on:
- An offer to allow the Parish Council to buy a plot valued at £80.000 for just over £5,000
- An offer of £15,000 From DCC via our county Councillor Ray Radford to cover the purchase cost plus legal and planning fees to get the project started
- Agreement with MDDC, DCC, that the site would be used to build the health and community centre which had been clearly defined in various presentations. A period of 5 years was allowed for the commencement of the planned community services.
- Agreement between the Parish Council and the Charity Commission for a charity to be set up. This included the submission of the heads of agreement which would form the terms of the lease between the Parish Council and the newly formed charity which were specifically requested by the Charity Commission during the application process. This was co-ordinated by Cllr Warren who acted as liaison and administrator between The Charity Commission and the Parish Council.
The heads of agreement are:
- Land Leased - Land allocated for the Willand Health and Community Centre, Gables Road, Willand, Cullompton, EX15 2PL. [Land boundary marked on the attached plan in red.]
- Term - A term of 99 years from the date that the lease is completed.
- Ground Rent - Peppercorn
- Planning - The Lessee shall comply with all planning obligations relating to the Land and any buildings thereon.
- Legal Costs - Each party will be responsible for their own legal costs.
- Permitted Use - The land may only be used for the provision of health and community services to further or benefit the health and wellbeing of the residents of Willand and the surrounding neighbourhood.
- Termination of Lease - In the event that the land is no longer used for the provision of health and community services as described the lease will be terminated to allow Willand Parish Council to meets its obligations under legal agreement..
- Landowner - Willand Parish Council
What was promised for which planning consent was obtained?
- GP Surgery
- Substantial community Centre.
- Specified list of services including therapy rooms, drop in café, learning centre, day care centre heritage centre amongst others
Ideas of how the WHCC would have been used
Photos from the Blckdown Healthy Living and Activity Centre
Therapy Room (BHLAC) CAMEO (BHLAC)
The first steps
- The Parish Council applied for Planning Permission for a Health and Community Centre - granted
- The Parish Council applied for building regulations - granted
- Fund raising was started which resulted in a number of donations (around £20,000 which was deposited in the Parish Council Bank as the charity account had not yet been set up.
- A lease was prepared in line with the agreed heads of agreement, reviewed three times by the Parish Council Community committee who were both Trustees and Parish Councillors. Initially the lease was considered to be too commercial and it was simplified to make it less onerous.
- The agreed lease was submitted for signature by the Parish council
What went wrong?
- As a result of false and incomplete information being provided, I was displaced as chairman at a meeting I was not able to attend. An email from a Councillor who was present confirmed this.
- Cllr Warren was appointed as chairman
- A new lease was "served” on the charity which was very different from the heads of agreement submitted by the parish council to the Charity Commission. It was a full commercial lease and It included, amongst other items, exclusion of tenant rights which meant that the value of improvements carried out by the Charity would be lost at the end of the lease.
- The charity was advised by its solicitor that the terms would not be acceptable under charity law and also left the trustees personally exposed by potentially having to use their own financial resources to meet some requirements of the lease.
- The parish council refused to change the lease and, despite several representations by the charity, created a stalemate for 2 years.
- The Parish Council then decided to look for alternatives on the grounds that the charity "refused” to sign the lease.
- The view of our solicitor was confirmed by three other legal advisors.
The summary of Legal advice was
"The main issues are that it places very onerous obligations on the charity. Not only that, but you are agreeing in the lease to exclude security of tenure rights, which means at the end of the term of the lease you could very easily lose the asset that all the charity money has gone into.
I don’t consider the lease to be on terms that are acceptable under charity legislation.”
What will now be delivered?
- A pre-school
- A Community room (three rooms with only one of them having disabled access)
- It is claimed, the full list of services as the original plan although this will not be possible.
I believe that any room designated as a community room must have disabled access and therefore two of the three rooms cannot be defined as community as they are on the first floor up a very steep and narrow flight of stairs. To suggest that all of the services initially defined for the Health and Community Centre can be delivered from one room for the next 99 years demonstrates how badly thought through this "valuable asset” plan is.
Comments which appeared on and via Facebook
"On behalf of the directors of Willand preschool, we really cant understand why some of you are so negative of what is a great opportunity for Willand to have a community centre. Yes it is on a smaller scale but its provided for you at no cost. The past has no relevance on what is on offer now. The preschool only became involved after we learnt that WHCC was not prepared to sign the lease and the doctors had pulled out, surely this is a better option than low cost housing. Its about time that all this in house bickering stopped and we start fund raising for amenities to go in the building”
Comment – compared with what was promised, this is certainly not a "great opportunity”. This is not a "Community Centre”. The great opportunity has been taken away from our residents by the inexplicable actions of the Parish Council. The WHCC were not able to sign the lease for legal reasons. The Doctors surgery had continued to express their interest and did not "pull out” I think it is right that the Parish Council should be taken to task for what they have done to the village and do not consider it to be "in-house bickering”
Chair of the Parish Council, Barry Warren, said "My predecessor as Chair of the Parish Council, Ray Ursell, had the vision to provide a community facility on this site when it was being disposed of by Devon County Council. He and some colleagues were able to negotiate a deal whereby the Parish Council became owners of the site but there were strings attached with time scales which if not met would mean that the site could be lost to the parish.
"The original plans were for there to be a doctor’s surgery and pharmacy on site as well as other health and community facilities. Legal issues, fundraising and rising costs meant that time was running out. Rather than lose the facility for the village the Parish Council responded positively to the Pre-school approach. By doing so we have saved some of the original concept but without the doctor’s surgery or pharmacy.”
David Maynard summed up by saying: "With the possibility of having differing age groups and various sections of the community using the same site we hope that we, and those working with us, will be able to contribute to the facilities for and social cohesion of our community.”
Comment – Cllr Warren states that I and some colleagues were able to negotiate a deal. Those Colleagues were the Parish Council of which he was a prominent player in formulating the original plan – why does he seem to want to distance himself from being part of the original team.
The reason for the delays was simple. The Parish Council obviously changed its mind when Cllr Warren became the Parish Council chairman and put obstacles in the way which cut across all previous agreements.
The Parish council will have their own meeting room and the village will have virtually nothing. This is not an outcome to celebrate but to be shocked at the actions of our representatives. I believe that had Cllr Warren and the Parish Council put the same effort into supporting this project that they used to destroy it, we would be looking at a very different view of what is still a derelict site today.
Questions to be answered
- Has the Parish Council broken charity law by making statements to the Charity Commission during the application for the creation of the charity and then not following their declared intent? Their web site states that it is a criminal offence to provide false information to the Charity Commission.
- Does the lease between the Parish Council and the Pre-School (which is a charity) contain any clauses which would provide compensation for the charity funds spent on improvements which would otherwise be lost at the end of the lease?
- Has there been any favouritism been shown to the Pre-school by the Parish Council which were not available to the WHCC?
- If the lease conditions are the same as those presented to the WHCC, has the Pre-school broken Charity Law by agreeing to transfer the value they will add to the site to the Parish Council without compensation at the end of the lease?
- Why was the planning application for the much reduced "community facilities” submitted without consultation with the village? Why was the consultation recently carried out for the Health and community centre (94% in support) ignored by the Parish Council?
- A number of donations were made for the Health and Community Centre project by several organisations including the Parish Council. These were held in the Parish Council bank account as the charity account was not set up at the time. These are designated funds and may not be used for any other purpose. What will happen to these funds now?
- We understand that the legal costs used in undermining the project were wrongly paid from this designated fund as the heads of agreement clearly stated that each party would pay its own costs. Why was this decision taken?
- Will these legal costs be refunded by the Parish Councillors personally as it is clear that their actions were not in the best interests of the residents?
- Will the extra legal costs incurred by the charity related to the "served” lease be refunded to the charity by the Parish Councillors personally?
- What will happen to the residue of these donations estimated at around £20,000 as the project is now stopped? These are designated funds.
- How will those who have bought bricks and donated funds for a Health and Community Centre be compensated now that the project has been stopped by the Parish Council?
- Planning consent has been given for another Pre-school and Community room
- MDDC have allowed a very significant change of use despite many objections
- A 99 year lease has been signed.
Willand has lost out again only this time it was caused by your representatives, the Parish Council, without letting you have your say and allowing the charity to fundraise by selling bricks whilst they stood by and said nothing of their plans. I hope that the Parish Council will take a moment to reflect each time they hold a Parish Council meeting in their new meeting room on how they have let the residents of our village down – perhaps when they ask if there are any questions from the public.
The Parish Council have now stepped back from their Community responsibilities. Is this why they disbanded the Community sub-committee as soon as I left the Council? Is this why they decided to move Parish Council information from the Village community web site after 10 years? At our cost, I might add!
Willand is not a place to grow old any more. The only place to access community services now is from the surrounding areas and I will do my best to facilitate this.
14th December 2018