Sat, 22 Oct 2016
AFTER a turbulent two years, Greenham Parish Council is still very much in a state of turmoil with two more resignations and further uncertainty surrounding the future of the control tower project.
Six councillors have stepped down in the past two months alone and there is no guarantee the council will be successful in its application to secure a £150,000 loan to finish the control tower.
Steve Westbrook and Chris Dewhurst, the latest two councillors to resign, have followed four others out of the door.
It is not yet clear whether there will be a by-election to fill those vacant seats – but councillors couldn’t even agree on whether to pay £1,200 for poll cards to inform residents in the event of one.
Even chairman Phil Barnett has tried to stand down from his role, but has been told his resignation is invalid until he finds a replacement.
In his resignation speech, Mr Barnett admitted that the next chairman would face many problems in the months ahead.
And it seems that no-one is willing to take on the job, with the only person to put their name forward – Mr Westbrook – standing down from the council recently.
Mr Westbrook’s resignation poses another problem – he was the councillor responsible for overseeing the project to transform the iconic cold war tower into a visitor centre and café.
With nobody currently appointed to chair the control tower committee, all future meetings have had to be cancelled.
The four vacant seats from the previous four resignations in July and August were all filled by Liberal Democrats, who were elected unopposed.
This led to criticism from other parties that the Lib Dems were politicising the parish council.
The latest saga comes after what has been a challenging two years for Greenham Parish Council and, in particular, for its chairman.
Long-serving chairman Tony Forward resigned in June 2014, saying that owing to increased pressure, he felt he could no longer continue in the role.
His replacement, Patrick Planterose, stepped down in May 2015 – only 10 months after taking over. He said: “It’s been a tumultuous year for Greenham Parish Council.”
In August, Mr Barnett handed in his resignation after 14 months, saying delays to the control tower project and personal commitments were factors in his decision.
The redevelopment of the control tower was first given the go-ahead last September, a year after West Berkshire Council sold it to the parish for a reported six-figure sum.
The project has been dogged by problems since.
Damage to the structure, particularly the roof, was worse than had been anticipated and the council opted to bid for a £150,000 loan in order to finish the repairs.
This setback followed a damning audit which exposed a wide range of failings in the project’s governance and finances.
Moreover, the audit revealed that the council’s control tower working group had been operating ultra vires – outside proper legal authority – for two years.
In the wake of the controversy, parish councillor Julian Swift-Hook, who had been instrumental in securing planning permission in the first place, was removed from the group by fellow councillors.