The Friends of North Lodge Park was set up to oversee the future of North Lodge Park on behalf of the community. As such, we want to be confident that, if Cromer Town Council (CTC) were to take on ownership of the Park, its future would be sustainable in both the medium and long term.
Over the few months that we have been working with CTC, we have raised a number of concerns with the Park committee and these have not been answered satisfactorily. This has left us concerned about the future of the Park should CTC take on ownership.
Last week (Wednesday 3rd June) CTC called an extraordinary meeting to discuss the transfer project. We wanted to make sure the full council were aware of our concerns before making key decisions about whether to continue with the transfer project.
Our concerns are summarised here, with a full set of notes available online here.
The Friends of North Lodge Park first asked the council to reconsider the extent to which:
- they really wanted to own and manage the Park;
- they had considered sufficiently what this entails and had ensured they had the capacity, skills and budget to make the Park a major community asset for Cromer;
- the views and wishes of the community were seen as important in their decision making.
2. The transfer process
We asked two simple questions about the transfer project:
- who has responsibility for managing this project?
This is a simple transfer of an asset between two public bodies – what has gone wrong?
If there are concerns why have these been allowed to drag on for 15 months?
- who is in control of its escalating costs?
What are the legal costs to date and who will pay these costs? Whichever public body pays the legal fees it is still the people of Cromer who will have to pay – Cromer Town Council is responsible.
3. Budgets and planning
The Council’s Financial Regulation requires that when property or land is acquired there should be in place a report to Full Council that considers:
- its valuation and details of covenants etc
- a survey of its condition
- a proper business case
- and adequate consultation with the electorate.
We have not seen information with regard to these sensible requirements and asked if individual councillors were comfortable with these points, in particular whether they understood the budget, the business plan, the maintenance plan and the costs proposed for managing the Park.
We asked whether, individually, councillors know how the Park was to be funded (eg further precept increases, income from the proposed crematorium, the proposed ‘dowry’ or other income generation proposals), and why the budget was different from the business plan.
In conclusion, we asked pointedly, whether each councillor could confidently say: “I have seen all the facts and figures, they are reliable and well prepared, I understand the risks and I believe that we have a sound business case for managing the Park”, as their financial regulations and duty as Councillors requires.
4. Council procedures
Our experience of working with CTC has been uncomfortable and embarrassing; the procedures CTC are being advised to follow seem inconsistent and unwieldy. The procedures are there to protect CTC, to ensure due process is followed, to help manage the public’s money in an open and honest way; but unless they are used consistently, and properly, they are open to abuse and cause potential risks.
We are concerned that managing the Park within the current procedures would be difficult and there is considerable scope for improvement. The Park would be a new sort of asset for CTC to operate, bringing new challenges. We are uncomfortable with managing the Park without reviewing the operating procedures of the council.
We have already proposed changes, but these have not been adopted.
We asked the council whether, as individuals:
- Are you comfortable with the advice you are given on the procedures you have to follow?
- Are you happy to take on the management of a major visible asset for Cromer using procedures that aren’t appropriate?
- Why is there such resistance to change? And where is this resistance coming from? Why not use the Friends committee as a catalyst for change?
5. The community
We have concerns about how CTC are working with, and plan to work with, the community in overseeing the Park. We asked the following questions
- Many Councils recommend setting up a Trust to oversee park management, because they recognise they cannot do it on their own, what makes Cromer different?
- Why would CTC show a total lack of interest in the findings of the community survey?
- Why would CTC want to proceed with the transfer of the Park without engaging the help
- of the community? Why would CTC not want a committee process and structure which embraces members of the community who are willing to give their time and resources to support and work with you?
- Why would you not want to do everything you can to get the cafe open as soon as the transfer completes and why are you using the procedures that you have to prevent this community priority from happening?
- Why is there such a lack of openness? Why do you not want the Friends to be able to vote on the committee?