And so we came to the final moments as the sword was raised ready to descend on Bexley’s neck. The Mayor said she would allow three more speakers and Councillor, or Mrs. as the Mayor prefers to call her, June Slaughter rose to her feet to deliver her eagerly awaited words.
Selling parks she said “was one of the most unfortunate decisions this Council has made since I was elected in 1974. I have received more letters and emails about this than any other issue in which I have been involved as a member of the Council”.
“Despite assurances to the contrary I still feel that alternatives have not been fully explored.”
“As far as the policy of selling is concerned I have consistently opposed the sale of this park because I am opposed to selling any open space that was acquired or designated by the Council as open space.”
“Like other members I am critical of the process followed by the Council.” Councillor Slaughter covered the consultation conducted without identification of the site, the consultation taken at the height of the holiday period and the statutory consultation which went ahead with minimal publicity. The consultation was not listed among other consultations on the Council’s website and only following complaints was a small sign put in the library on 22nd December. “Residents feel that a full public inquiry should have been undertaken.”
“The Council’s claim of underuse of the park and the overprovision of nearby open space was unjustified.”
The public was hanging on to Councillor Slaughter’s every word but not everyone was paying attention.
While Councillor Slaughter was speaking the reliably obnoxious Cabinet Member Massey struck up conversations with She Who Must Be Obeyed and his partner in crime Philip Read. Plotting June Slaughter’s downfall perhaps.
Councillor Slaughter had not forgotten that most Councillors had already voted to sell Bexley’s parks while pretending to remain open minded at public meetings.
“Listening to you, working for you” she said, was ignored when 1,400 people objected as part of the Summer consultation. “Residents are left wondering what more they can do to be heard.”
Councillor Slaughter promised residents that all the Sidcup councillors would be “with them for the next stage to ensure the least damaging development is carried out”.
Like Councillor Leitch, she paid tribute “to the many residents who put heart and soul into the campaign to Save Old Farm Park”. Addressing her bored looking colleagues, she said “do you want to be remembered as Members of the Council which sold this highly valued park?”
Councillor Alan Deadman (Labour Leader) supported a public inquiry because it would not be seen as ‘predetermined by the party opposite’ and there were still unanswered questions about the sale of the parks, especially the smaller ones. Like Councillor Slaughter he wanted to know just how many people needed to object before this Council would take any notice of residents.
The third Sidcup Councillor, Aileen Beckwith, was invited to speak. There had been speculation beforehand that Councillor Beckwith would abstain in the vote which would be little better than the decision of others such as Gareth Bacon who chose to stay away. But Councillor Beckwith is made of sterner stuff than the money motivated GLA candidate.
She came straight to the point and agreed with her ward colleagues, saying she would be voting against the sale of parks.
From someone who seemed to have had enough of her party we went to someone who can never get enough parties, the well known reveller, Councillor Sharon Massey.
Councillor Aileen Beckwith can be independent of husband Brian who is more in awe of Teresa O’Neill and obediently voted to sell, but there is no such division in the Massey household. Whether it be accusing their neighbours of harassment or harassing the whole borough they stick together.
Holding up the General Purposes Agenda as proof, Councillor Massey disputed the suggestion that “not enough people have been consulted”. She said that Councillor Deadman was wrong, people had been listened to. I think she meant ignored.
She said Councillors must do what is best for the borough which was to sell its parks to fund the financial black holes. The financial woes were caused by too high a benefit bill and quoted some figures while blaming the Labour government for them. “That is one of the reasons why we do not have enough money.” To much laughter she claimed to understand the residents of Sidcup. The residents responded with “you don’t even live here.”
The Mayor threatened to clear the gallery and I resolved to sit tight if she did and make them call the police. Unfortunately the Mayor is all hot air and issues only empty threats.
Councillor Massey concluded by saying that “if any Member of this chamber doesn’t think they have had their concerns addressed, they’ve had plenty of opportunity. What we are doing tonight is the right thing.”
To cries of “oh no” the Mayor asked Councillor Craske to sum up. He claimed that ten years ago the Labour Group planned to sell off Old Farm Park. You’d think that would have cropped up somewhere along the last 15 months of debate if that was true, but it hasn’t. “They were going to bulldoze over Old Farm Park”, he said. “It’s a bit of a joke.”
Presumably an unintentional slip of the tongue, but he then said that Councillors Leitch, Slaughter and Beckwith were “going to vote the right way”. Much clapping. The Bogey Man then launched into the drivel about the alternative to park sales being the vindictive closure of all the children’s playgrounds.
Just before the vote was called Councillor Borella objected to it being taken without Members being provided with a clue, not even in confidence, of what the sites might sell for. The public clapped, nothing more, and the failed headmistress threatened to have them removed again.
In answer, Cabinet Member Don Massey read out an email he had sent to Councillor Borella which claimed that jumping into the unknown without any figures had precedents. So that’s all right then.
The Mayor complained about the fact that Councillor Borella had chosen to “interrupt” her call for a vote.
Finally the vote was taken by roll call with the Acting Chief Executive calling out the names - apart from UKIP Councillor Beazley who he initially omitted - and the result was a foregone conclusion. Labour, UKIP and the three Sidcup Conservatives voted against the sale while all the others dutifully put their knife into the green heart of Bexley.
As numerous people have said before, it was a done deal more than a year ago but there was a drama that had to be played out for appearances’ sake.