Councillors walk out of stormy meeting

Members of Epworth's Action for Parking group handover a petition with over 400 signatures, to Epworth Town Council clerk Caroline McGuire. Pictured with her are L-R Mike Harm, of NE1 Menswear, and former ward councillor Barry Briggs. Picture: Liz Mockler E1032LM
Members of Epworth's Action for Parking group handover a petition with over 400 signatures, to Epworth Town Council clerk Caroline McGuire. Pictured with her are L-R Mike Harm, of NE1 Menswear, and former ward councillor Barry Briggs. Picture: Liz Mockler E1032LM

A FURIOUS row over land that objectors say could be used for valuable parking space in Epworth reached a peak last week when three town councillors walked out of a bad tempered meeting.

Controversy continues to surround the future of the King’s Head Croft (KHC) site in the town with parking problems again at the eye of the storm.

Epworth's King's Head Croft car park during a week day lunchtime.  Picture: Liz Mockler E1041LM

Epworth's King's Head Croft car park during a week day lunchtime. Picture: Liz Mockler E1041LM

Feelings ran so high at the tense monthly town council meeting, which was attended by dozens of townsfolk at the Imperial Hall, that three members walked out.

The problem surrounds a recent decision made by the town council to allow the land, next to St Andrew’s Church, to be put into a trust agreement, allowing it to be nominated as a potential Queen Elizabeth II Field to mark next year’s diamond jubilee celebrations. This means it will eligible for future grant applications and while it can later be sold the council must provide an alternative open space.

Opponents to this decision accused the council of failing to consult with local residents and feelings spilled over into this month’s regular meeting.

Former town councillor Barry Briggs has accused the council of presenting a “fait accompli” in allowing the KHC to be nominated and he was involved in organising a petition against the move.

Motorists struggle through Epworth's busy High street, during a week day lunchtime.  Picture: Liz Mockler E1043LM

Motorists struggle through Epworth's busy High street, during a week day lunchtime. Picture: Liz Mockler E1043LM

The petition also mentions the ongoing problems over parking provision in the town.

Extending the KHC car park has been suggested as a possible solution to the problem and over 450 signatures were collected on the petition which was handed over to the council.

Speaking at this month’s meeting, Mr Briggs said: “We have not had a response from the council. I urge the council to reconsider its decision.

“The council has gone ahead without any consultation with the people who continue to pay for its maintenance. Once this land is handed over it will be impossible to reclaim it.”

Another ex-councillor, former chairman Gary Baker, slammed the council for passing a “done deal”.

He said: “I am not in favour of tying up the King’s Head Croft for parking but I don’t want to close that door – you have to consult the people.

“In five years’ time people will say ‘Who made this decision?’

“Putting an asset outside the council’s control – I don’t think this should take place without consultation.”

Mr Baker also added that local businesses were “desperate for support” because of the economic situation and his opinions were echoed by Mike Harm.

Mr Harm recently opened a menswear shop in Fountain Court and he also helped organise the petition as well as setting up an action group to try and move the issue forward.

Speaking at the meeting, Mr Harm said he had “serious misgivings” about the council’s ability to serve the people of Epworth.

He added: “The parking committee, who are they? How many meetings have they had? What strategy have they come up with to solve these problems?

“The council have chosen not to discuss the issues. Epworth Town Council don’t really care what the electorate think or what local businesses think.

“It’s my belief that Epworth Town Council is not clear about its role and is out of touch – they need to take a long hard look at themselves.”

There were almost 30 residents in the packed Imperial Hall venue and contributions were often punctuated by rounds of applause.

Later on in the meeting the KHC/parking issue was raised again with councillors expressing their own views.

Several members questioned exactly how many petition signatories were from the parish of Epworth, maintaining a number were from other parts of the Isle.

Coun Jonathan Whittaker said: “I feel realy disappointed and totally disheartened because there are people here who give up their time, month after month, for these meetings – with very little interest from members of the public in this town.

“We are trying our best to move this forward and to say we aren’t trying is wrong.”

Coun Liz Redfern said there should be an “open forum” to discuss the KHC and parking issues – which was met with applause – and Coun Graham Wilson criticised his colleagues who backed the trust motion last month.

“This decision was made through the back door,” he said.

Coun Eddie Mardell added: “We represent the views of the people, not our own prejudices.”

There were a number of interruptions from members of the public and chairman Margaret Lindley was forced to use her gavel several times to try and bring order to the meeting, adding that proceedings had got out “out of hand”.

Coun Don Stewart said: “I support the site going into trust for future generations. It’s difficult times for people and we have to be prudent.

“This has been discussed time and time again. North Lincolnshire Council are the car parking authority, they are the people who are responsible.”

Coun Wilson angered his colleagues by continually pressing for answers over the KHC trust decision and this resulted in Councillors Bob Fish, Eileen Tatton and Jean Leveseley walking out.

Councillor Levesley added she was “utterly disgusted” by Coun Wilson’s behaviour.

The decision to place the site into a trust agreement was passed by a 7-3 vote at the October meeting of the council.

An amendment to hold a consultation over the trust issue was defeated by the same margin at the same meeting.

For the issue to be raised again, the clerk informed members this month, eight councillors must sign a written document demanding it be placed on the December agenda.