Councillors Hold Private Meetings and Send Information, But CBC Keeps Ignoring The Town

  • Public feedback suggests that people in Houghton Regis want to retain Windsor Drive recreation ground, but it is a CBC Housing Revenue Asset and the unitary authority has aspirations to build up to 100 homes there. 
  • 3 CBC councillors for Houghton Regis, two Liberal Democrats and one Labour,  have been taking part in unofficial 'information exchange meetings' in which Windsor Drive seems to have been bartered away in exchange for 'areas of improvement'. 
  • Meanwhile, an anticipated new Leisure Centre for Houghton Regis has been put back, at least by a few years, in favour of other projects in the CBC area. 
  • This week, councillors at a Houghton Regis Town Council committee meeting decided NOT to renew Windsor Drive or Houghton Regis Leisure Centre as Assets of Community Value.
  • This report by Alan Winter, tries to inform you how all of this has unfolded. (It's not always easy to get the right spot to start CBC videos so you might have to hop around the start points provided.)
Google Maps Image: Windsor Drive Recreation Ground from above Parkside Recreation Ground.


Windsor Drive: 5th January

On the 5th January, Councillor Carole Hegley, a CBC Executive member, at the time with significant responsibility for Housing, seconded a motion approving the Central Bedfordshire Council's Draft Budget for the Housing Revenue Account (HRA). 

The minutes of that meeting say, “In response to a question, the Executive Member for Adults Social Care and Housing Operations [Cllr Carole Hegley] explained that a working group, involving those ward Members that wanted to be involved had been formed in Houghton Regis to understand the aspirations for the town and what could be derived from investment there to benefit the community.  Windsor Drive had been included in the draft HRA budget, this was the first step in enabling the activity to be delivered.  Other areas of improvement for Houghton Regis had also been added to the draft budget after listening to feedback from ward Members.”

As far as I can ascertain, the 'ward members' for Houghton Regis would have included Cllrs Farrell (LibDem) Goodchild (LibDem) and Ryan (Labour), but not Cllr Hamill (Indep), as he left the group, he tells me, “months ago. It  was a setup in my opinion just to get Windsor Drive built on. I don't go with set ups.”

I have also tried to find out what the "Other areas of improvement for Houghton Regis" might be, but am being told by CBC's Goodchild and Farrell that they do not know.

Listen here - 1:29:00:

Fast Forward to 26th January - Town Partnership

CBC are set to allocate £20m from it's 2021/22 budget to look to see how it might use its housing asset land at Windsor Drive, known locally as Windsor Drive recreation ground.


At the moment there are no hard plans, only aspirations, and the council, CBC, are hoping to find ways to engage with the community to find out how it might enhance the facilities there, whilst also building a suggested 100 homes.


The following recording is from the Town Partnership meeting of 26th January. Tony Keaveney, Assistant Director Housing Services, Social Care, Health & Housing Directorate at CBC speaks followed by a cross-examination put by local councillors.


The video starts at the right time in the meeting to see Tony talking.
Also, on the 26th January 2021, an item appeared on the Houghton Regis Town Council's Town Partnership Agenda entitled "INFORMAL INFORMATION SHARING ". The item goes on to say,

“Members may be aware that over the last few months the Chairs and Vice Chairs of the CBC Partnership Committees have met to share good practice in relation to the operation and function of the committee.
For Houghton Regis this has resulted in a more focused spin off group emerging comprising Houghton Regis Ward Councillors, 2 CBC Executive Councillors and the Chair and the Clerk Houghton Regis Town Council. This group has met a few times over the last 6 months or so. Some useful discussions have been had and ideas have been discussed for potential strategic projects in Houghton Regis. Members of the group are very aware that this is an informal, non-decision making group with no authority or remit other than to bring ideas forward.
It is hoped that as these ideas become more tangible that they can be presented for formal consideration.”

In other words, they have met privately, and they have no power to do anything. The Agenda item then continues,

“The Terms of Reference of this [Houghton Regis Partnership] Committee state:
Meetings and Quorum
4. In addition to the Committee meetings, the Town Joint Committee can organise other forms of engagement to take place such as themed discussions / task and finish groups and community conferences, including joint meetings or events with other Town Joint Committees in Central Bedfordshire.”

In other words, the Houghton Regis Partnership Committee has the authority to authenticate the work of an ad hoc group of people. This would legitimise what the ad hoc ideas group has already been doing without authority 'over the last few months'. The Agenda item then continues,


“To support the work of the group, members are requested to endorse the membership of this group and its basic remit.
Membership
Houghton Regis CBC Ward Councillors
CBC Executive Councillors (Cllr Young, Cllr Hegley)”

Let's be clear, these last are two Dunstable CBC councillors with Executive roles at the time the report to the Houghton Regis Council was written. The additional responsibilities for Cllr Carole Hegley included Housing, and Cllr Young has had a lot to do with regeneration and roads.  In an Executive reshuffle at CBC just before this Town Partnership meeting, both of these councillors lost their most significant and influential roles.  The ward CBC councillors would include Cllrs Goodchild (LibDem), Farrell (LibDem), Ryan (Labour), and Hamill (Independent). Cllr Hamill has told me he had left this group by the time of this meeting.

The Agenda item then continues,

“Chair of HR Partnership Committee
Vice Chair of Partnership Committee (not currently included)
Chair of Houghton Regis Town Council
Clerk of Houghton Regis Town Council
Officer representation from CBC (not currently included”

“Remit
To discuss project ideas for Houghton Regis and for these to be put forward for further consideration.” 
 
“Recommendation: To support and endorse the informal information sharing group:
Membership
Houghton Regis CBC Ward Councillors
CBC Executive Councillors (Cllr Young, Cllr Hegley)
Chair of HR Partnership Committee
Vice Chair of Partnership Committee
Chair of Houghton Regis Town Council
Clerk of Houghton Regis Town Council
Officer representation from CBC
Remit
To discuss project ideas for Houghton Regis and for these to be put forward for further consideration.”

A discussion then takes place about the above, and Houghton Regis Town Councillor, Cllr David Jones (LibDem), strikes out against the proposed membership of the committee. He starts by correcting misinformation about how in his view the meetings began and the number of them actually held, and points out that Cllr Hamill had told him that he had instigated them.

Cllr Jones continues to run down a list of what he sees as failings of CBC towards the town and the Town Council [see video below for full script]



In the video above, HRTC Cllr Jones points out various items of significance to do with Houghton Regis, information asked for by CBC with no feedback received from CBC.  samples - Cllr Jones, “... the feasibility study for Kingsland was promised last March, since then we haven't seen it. We've had to judge the best situation for the new secondary school without the benefit of seeing that. Some of the aspirations are small things but not really prioritised but people are not really so bothered about those as long as the usual range of services is available. They are bothered about the big ticket items, schools, leisure centre, possible health centre, the town centre. 

“There are signs in that programme that we're not being listened to. For me, the situation is summed up by the proposals on budget. Medium term financial plan. For capital last year included some £12m towards the Leisure Centre. This year, the proposal has been removed and replaced by £250,000 to be spent in year 4. In the Medium term financial plan for housing revenue we have the proposal for Windsor Drive. It just shows how out of touch CBC is with what's going on in this town. Those proposals are directly opposite to what people want. So there has to be change. Can't support the motion tonight, I will propose that we postpone consideration of this... ”:


He is followed by CBC Cllr Patrick Hamill who supports him (see video for full words), “We had Puddle Hill, that wasn't an Houghton Regis aspiration, it was officer lead. We had no one listening to the voices in Houghton Regis. I feel sorry for the Town Councillors, I know you've been ignored. It needs to change. You can't keep a deprived area deprived. It's got to change.”

See Footnote 1 - Cllr Hamill made a statement on 10 Feb, following this publication.

Rewind to 5th January: Houghton Regis Leisure Centre

On 5th January 2021, in CBC's Draft Capital Programme 2021/22 to 2024/25, Houghton Regis Leisure Centre was excluded, whereas Leisure Centres in Leighton Buzzard and Sandy would be catered for. Cllr Pat Hamill asked the CBC Executive meeting why £25m promised in 2020 was no longer allocated to Houghton Regis Leisure Centre, and instead why only £250,000 was allocated to the capital budget for 2024/25 for this project.:



Cllr Hamill was subsequently advised by the Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Corporate Resources, that the provision of leisure and a new school in Houghton Regis was being considered as part of the development of the Kingsland Site. Due to slower delivery of the housing development in Houghton Regis the development of a new leisure centre would be kept under review. Residents in Houghton Regis had access to Dunstable Leisure Centre (quotation from draft minutes).




Cllr Susan Goodchild wanted an explanation as to what had happened between 9th November and now to have a replacement Houghton Regis Leisure Centre removed from the budget? Houghton Regis was a significant area of growth:



Fast Forward to 8th February: HRTC Community Services Committee

This committee of Houghton Regis Town Council met virtually on 8 February. On the Agenda was an item to renew a couple of items of Assets of Community Value. The officers were recommending that an application be made to renew these sites: Land at Windsor Drive and HR Leisure Centre

The recommendation was put. The vote was 4-3 against renewing the sites. A recorded vote was taken: 
Against: Clare Copleston (Lab), Yvonne Farrell (LibDem), Susan Goodchild (LibDem), Martin Kennedy (Lab).
For: Carroll (Ind), McMahon (Ind), Wattingham (LibDem)
See Footnote 2 - A statement from Labour.

Houghton Regis Town Council
Following the vote, on the 9th February, Houghton Regis Town Council posted this message to their Facebook Page: “Assets of Community Value
Last night the Community Services Committee considered whether to list as a Community Asset the land at Windsor Drive and the HR Leisure Centre. Although it was ultimately decided not to, please be assured that the council will be actively involved in any future consultation or proposals for either site and we would encourage all residents with an interest in these, or other sites, to engage in any consultation process.
For further details on the Community Asset scheme including its benefits please follow this [link]”.


Conclusion

Well ... ? Our information exchanging CBC councillors in Houghton Regis have exchanged some ideas in unofficial meetings with powerful CBC Conservative councillors for as yet undisclosed trade-offs in exchange for going along with the idea of development of Windsor Drive. 
Somewhere along the line someone at CBC has had the bright idea that developments at Houghton Regis are going too slowly and therefore the anticipated new Leisure Centre can be postponed. 
Two of the town's HRTC's Community Services Committee are also CBC councillors for the Town, and two others are politically allied to another Houghton Regis CBC councillor that all voted not to relist Windsor Drive as an asset of community value.

Further Reading: Petition, Facebook Page, Community Right to...

  1. There is a petition entitled, “Stop Central Bedfordshire Council building houses on Windsor Drive Field in Houghton Regis
  2. There is a Facebook Group, CBC plans for Windsor Drive Recreation Field
  3. Community Right to Bid for Assets of Community Value - Download or read on CBC website

Footnotes

1. Cllr Pat Hamill, writing on Facebook 10/2/2021 9:13am, and slightly edited later, "Just to put the record straight I set up a meeting with the two CBC Councillors Cllr Young & Hegley to see what Land could be made available for a  Cemetery which I have been trying to source since I became a Councillor. The discussions turned towards trade offs to get this land.  Meaning bringing forward housing on one side of Windsor Drive which then could offer land for a Cemetery and investments for recreational purposes for the rest of Windsor Drive.  It was made clear by me that this package would have to be put before planning and as  councillors considering the views of the residents.  We continued with other projects such as parking schemes in Houghton Regis and many other investments needed on our estates to be funded. There is nothing wrong with talking to councillors outside of council to gauge what can and can't be done. It's called negotiation and we carried this out in good faith. We agreed to ask other Councillors to join this group so both the Town Council and CBC were both represented sharing their views on what had been discussed. It was then decided to call it an Aspiration Group because that is what councillors should have for their communities, aspirations. It was never going to be a secret group and a list was developed to present to the partnership Committee so we could hear what they had to say, only nothing ever got done that was on this list apart from a thrust by these two councillors to push the housing side through.  The small ticket items were ignored, the Cemetery land identified was never discussed by the Town Council as far as I was aware. In my opinion this aspirations group was merely a front for two executive members to lay the foundations down for more housing on Windsor Drive so I pulled out finally.

We have enough housing in Houghton Regis but at the time I felt we were as Councillors safe in the knowledge that the residents would have the final say on any package put before them. I will support those residents."

2. Houghton Regis Labour Team, writing on their blog on the afternoon following this publication, “Assets of Community Value ...  has been occasionally used to save the odd pub or shop ... we as a parish town council would not be allowed to borrow the sum of money required ... Even if we were allowed to borrow this sum, it would mean a colossal amount of financial debt going into millions of pounds ... our efforts and energies would be far better directed at ensuring that the inevitable development on Windsor Drive creates the least possible disruption to the area and that the maximum public utility is retained. We are fully committed to listening to the community and working towards achievable outcomes for the growth and development of Houghton Regis, to build a town that we are all proud of.


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