Priory Park is at risk

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I HAD the depressing experience of witnessing at the city council meeting last week another step back for the plans for Priory Park and also for local democracy!

Readers will recall the optimism felt by the thousands of users of the park last year when a well-attended public meeting overwhelmingly endorsed the council’s plans to borrow £500,000 at a low interest rate, from the Power of Well Being Fund to enable new fencing, a new cricket pavilion to replace the decaying ‘white pavilion’ and a much-needed cafe in what is now the Cricket Club house.

The cafe had been the number one priority in a users’ survey.

The city council have now reneged on that proposal by ‘rescinding the minute’ of the meeting when the decision was made.

Why, I hear you ask?

The reason is because there is the potential to acquire some money from a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which may be made by the district council.

However, as Councillor Plowman clearly pointed out, the HLF will not fund sports facilities and therefore no new pavilion and therefore, because the cricket club will have nowhere to move to, no cafe!

It is possible the cricket club may be able to get some funding from the English cricket board towards a new pavilion but it will require significant matched funding, which the district council is not in a position to find.

Speaking as someone who has spent nearly 40 years serving on or working with public bodies, what depressed me most was the poor standard of debate, and particularly chairmanship. Facts were not sought or ignored and all too quickly it descended into political posturing and that old faithful, blame the other council!

One ‘interesting’ idea that came up was to offer to ‘buy’ the park from the district council.

Looking at the track record of the city council in changing the Butter Market from a vibrant community resource, which nurtured the types of small businesses that are sadly missing from our town centres, into an up-market and practically empty white elephant, the prospect of the city council owning the park does not fill me with optimism!

Are we to look forward to bijou jewellers and another expensive tea room there?

Richard Hibberd

Graffham Close, Chichester