MEMBERS of Lyme Regis Bowling Club have accused town councillors of acting “unreasonably” and refusing to meet them to negotiate a new lease for their Monmouth Beach site.
The bowling club’s current leases for its Monmouth Beach site and adjacent car parking area are due to expire shortly and the council has been considering new leases with increased charges as part of its review of assets on and around the Monmouth Beach area for some months.
In November 2016 it was agreed to increase the lease rent for the bowling clubhouse and green to about £4,000 a year, and to charge a lease rent for the club’s car park based on 50 per cent of the current income the council receives from its public parking spaces at Monmouth Beach, to take effect from January 1st 2019 and January 1st 2020, respectively.
Bowling club members have made pleas for the council to reconsider its proposed charges for its car park area – which they have said would result in a 270 per cent increase on charges currently paid, described as “far too high” – and have claimed that requests to meet councillors to negotiate have been ignored.
The proposed charges are based on the car park having enough spaces for 24 cars, but club members have argued that there is only space for a maximum of 11 cars, and last week they brought a model of the car park to the council chamber to try and prove their point.
Four members of the club made their case in the public forum of last week’s Strategy & Finance Committee meeting.
Jim Moseley described the club as an “asset to the town” and said it cost more than £50,000 a year to run plus many hours of voluntary labour, which would have to be paid for if the bowling green returned to the council’s control if the club was priced out.
“Please consider this carefully when reviewing the future of the club,” he said.
“Hundreds of thousands of hours of voluntary effort has been put in over many years to keep it going.”
Fellow club member Charlie Barber then commented: “This is our only opportunity to talk to you. Have councillors been banned from speaking to us about the new lease?
“Twelve months ago, and without consultation with the bowls club, the town clerk wrote to the secretary of the bowls club to say for our new lease on the land we use for parking, the council had decided that recent would be based upon a loss of 24 public parking spaces.
“I want to explain to you why it is quite wrong that you will not talk to and negotiate with us. Firstly, it is unreasonable of you. This is a free society, not a dictatorship. Common decency demands reasonable behaviour from elected members. A nominated group of councillors should debate with is the issues surrounding the club and report back to full council.
“Secondly, the council and the bowls club are mutually involved in a lease governed by the Landlord and Tenants Act. The bowls club has a legal right to an extension of the lease. The bowls club has invested hundreds of thousands of man and woman hours into this site because, like all tenants, it expects to be able to continue to get the benefit of this investment. This is why the Landlord and Tenant Act is constituted as it is.”
Alan Nabarro outlined the bowling club’s concerns over the new lease, including that it was based on there being enough spaces for 24 cars, and said that other ideas and agreements could emerge from “positive discussions” between both parties.
Paul Moffitt then presented the council with their one-to-50-scale model of the car park and said that they had used the official measurements of public car parking spaces, as listed on Dorset County Council’s website, to work out that the space could only take a maximum of 11 cars.
The council discussion on the bowling club was expected to be taken in exempt business at last week’s meeting – meaning the press and public would be excluded – but Councillor Stan Williams argued that the debate should be held in public, resulting in a spat between members.
Councillor Williams said it was against the council’s standing orders to go into exempt business, adding that there was “considerable public interest”.
“If you exclude the press and public I will complain to the monitoring officer because I believe you are out of order in what you’re trying to do,” he added.
Town clerk John Wright commented: “The council has already made a decision in terms of how it’s going to proceed with the bowling club but some members have said ‘can we review this?’ The discussion that will take place will inform the council’s negotiating position on an issue with an external party and for that reason I suggest the council takes this item in exempt business.”
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Michaela Ellis, added: “There’s nobody on this council that is against the bowling club or having the bowling club where it is. What we’re trying to do is regulate the council’s decision and we need to do that when we can talk openly.”
Directing his comments at the town clerk, Councillor Williams said that charging for 24 spaces was a “stupid joke” adding: “This is dreadful and we’re making ourselves look stupid to the entire town, trying to do everything in secret and nobody knows what’s going on.”
Mr Wright objected, commenting: “There have been about a dozen meetings about the bowling club and assets on Monmouth Beach which members have been involved with. The view is the council’s view; it is not the town clerk’s view.”
Councillor Williams interrupted: “It wasn’t my view.”
Mr Wright continued: “Members have had umpteen opportunities to discuss issues surrounding the bowling club and agree on the position the council adopted. The decision the council has been made has been based on advice from the valuer and lawyers. They are council decisions, they are not town clerk decisions.”
Councillor Williams complained that the town clerk and one council member had held a meeting with the bowling club, and that other councillors had not been involved.
The town clerk argued he had been instructed to do so by the council, backed by Councillor Cheryl Reynolds who said the majority of the council had agreed this.
Councillor Williams told Councillor Reynolds to put her hand up when she wanted to speak, prompting Councillor John Broom to tell his fellow members to “at least act like adults”.
It was eventually agreed that the discussion would be held in private.
Speaking after the meeting Councillor Ellis, who is chairman of the Assets on-and-around Monmouth Beach working group, said: “The council discussed ways of supporting the bowling club and referred it back to the working group for further consideration.”