Monday 18 April 2016

AVBC May 2016 elections .... Cox & Nelson ...... Tory Tea Room Follies

Clr Nelson MBE made an interesting statement on his election leaflet:

"I am committed to restoring the Swiss Tea Rooms - unlike Labour who withdrew all funding last year when in control of the council".

The actual evidence is - funding was cut in 2013 by the Tories.

The Swiss Tea Rooms saga is just that, part myth, part truth depending on who you listen to. Clr Cox claims that the Tea Rooms replacement could not be completed because the national economy was in recession but as the Tory controlled borough were able to pay over £1.6 million (purchase price plus all fees and expenses) for the bungalow on Field Lane it is obvious that they made a choice to withdraw funding from the Tea Rooms and use the money for the ill thought out new Leisure Centre Project. If they had not done that the Tea Rooms could have been built and the Amber Valley Borough Council reserves would be £1,150,000 richer today. If you believe Nelson there was full funding by the Tories right up to 2014. They can't both be right.

Lifted from Belper News

The Saga of the Tory Tea Room Follies

Let's take a look back at the history of the Tory Tea Room Follies which started with the decision to stage an architectural competition, with the public able to choose their prefered building design. However, Tory controlled AVBC decided to set up a  Panel of Experts (as headlined by the the Derby Telegraph in February 2011) consisting of 4 Tories and the Belper News Editor. Cox was one of those Tories. The final judgement was made by just three people, Tory Councillors Cox and Tomlinson who outvoted the only person who was a genuine expert, Mark Suggitt, director of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Partnership. Cox and Tomlinson chose to ignore the public choice of a design that resembled the building it was replacing (the public vote was 5 to 1 in favour of this) and instead went for a more expensive modern design against the advice of Mark Suggitt.

This Belper News article from October 2011 sums it up nicely

Two quotes stand out from that meeting; first Clr Alan Cox:

“The public consultation was for what they preferred, not what would win.”

.......... and Tory Clr Peter Arnold:

“The public only ever complicate matters.”

You will notice that in 2011 the cost was put at £400k and there are many references to the sum being set aside or earmarked by the borough council. The building was due to be completed in 2013 but we know that no construction work was started and from the statement by Cox we know that it was the Tories who cut the funding. If only they had heeded the wise advice of  The Friends of Belper River Gardens and gone for the the cheaper public choice the Tea Rooms may well have been built already.

The evidence of the Tory cut is contained in these internal AVBC documents:

Amber Valley Borough Council Belper River Gardens Swiss Tea Rooms briefing document

There are updates to this on the AVBC website (though you have to do a fair amount of digging to find them) where you can watch the process slipping year by year. The odd phrase "source funding" appears in all the documents, initially planned for 2013, so there is some doubt that the ear-marked sum mentioned in 2011 actually existed. You cannot ear-mark nothing ........... but we'll let that go.

Within that document we also find:

Both Councillor John Nelson and Councillor Jim Anderson prefer (as reported verbally) the design chosen by the panel. That needs no further comment from me.

So where are we up to now in 2016?

We know that Belper Town Council have pledged £100k but if only they had gone with the public choice in the first place the Swiss Tea Room might well have been built by now. This we cannot tell for sure but it is obvious that by choosing the more expensive building against the wishes of the public and the Friends of Belper River Gardens these two Tories made it far more difficult for the project to proceed.

The current estimate comes in at £450k and what we need is a facility that serves those who stroll in the gardens but principally the children and families who use the play area. They desperately need proper facilities. The Labour Party pledge to fully fund the Swiss Tea Rooms by allocating proceeds from the sale of redundant council assets brings sense to this farce. Nelson claims on his election leaflet that he is "committed to restoring the Swiss Tea Rooms," as the evidence of the past 6 years clearly shows.

What Next ?

It is clear that if voters choose Ben Bellamy over Alan Cox in Belper North and Maurice Neville over John Nelson in Belper Central on May 5th then there is a sporting chance that Labour will take control of Amber valley Borough Council. If that happens then the pledge to fully fund the Tea Rooms will have to be honoured; that is the deal with Belper folk.

It is hoped that we can finally put aside the years of Tory prevarication, throw out the design chosen by Cox and Tomlinson and go for what was voted for by the public in 2011, a design in keeping with what has been there for over 100 years ........... and get some much needed tea and toilets near to the play area. Link to the Latham design and a little more background information from Belper Civic Forum.

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