David Ash has asked me to circulate his letter of resignation as Chairman of Funtington Parish Council – please see below:
Following my email to you 9 November informing you of my resignation from Funtington Parish Council both as Chairman and as Councillor, I have provided below a full explanation of my reasons for this.
The current Funtington Parish Council (FPC), which was elected in May 2019, comprises of 10 councillors from West Ashling, 2 from East Ashling, 1 from West Stoke and none from Funtington. Of the West Ashling councillors most were previous members of the West Ashling Residents Association (WARA). WARA was an organisation formed to challenge decisions made by the previous parish council which had made several decisions affecting The Dell which were opposed by some West Ashling residents. The previous FPC approved the construction of a small pavilion for use as a changing room for a local football team, the team subsequently decided to play elsewhere rendering the pavilion redundant. In addition, outside gym equipment, financed by the Big Lottery Fund (BLF), was installed for the use of anyone wishing to exercise outside. WARA fought against both of these decisions which were made at a time when there was a very low level of interest by the public in parish council affairs and little attendance at FPC monthly meetings. The basis of the WARA case was that FPC should have canvassed village opinion before making those decisions, whilst the parish council’s defence was that the discussions and decisions were minuted in FPC records and available for public scrutiny at the time the plans were discussed and decisions made.
As a result of this some West Ashling residents decided to offer themselves for election during the May 2019 elections in the hope that at least some of them would get elected and could challenge FPC decisions from within the parish council. As the total number of candidates offering themselves for election matched the number of councillors required all 10 were elected, leading to the lamentably unrepresentative council that we now have. Some of these councillors have made it very clear during discussion that they are principally interested in matters that affect West Ashling directly and have less interest in parish matters generally.
For a period of at least 18 months before the recent election The Dell was kept at centre stage during parish council meetings by members of the audience. Some of those audience members have since become councillors and the parish council has now spent another 6 months with The Dell being the predominant subject under discussion. There have been various suggestions made as to the future use of the pavilion but no firm decision by the PC as yet – discussions continue. It has been suggested that the gym equipment should be removed and disposed of or moved to another site. An alternative site has not been found and removal of it could result in having to repay BLF funds and would also ignore the wishes of parish residents, a majority of whom (57% of respondents if memory serves me correctly) indicated in the parish survey carried out last year that they were in favour of the gym equipment. In addition, any suggestions to ameliorate the situation in the short-term e.g. painting the bright orange parts of the equipment, hiding it using willow fencing have been consistently met with disapproval.
These discussions have often been acrimonious and unpleasant both during parish council meetings and in email discussions outside of meetings. Given the polarity of views, the current structure of the parish council, the possible waste of public funds and the view of the parish as expressed in last years survey, there seems little opportunity for compromise. In addition it is clear that I have become a lightning rod for the current level of dissent.
In my note to councillors before the election in May I said that ‘we should demonstrate a parish view in everything that we do, having a parish with 6 different centres of population makes life complicated and as residents we may have our individual concerns but that these should be viewed in the overall context of the parish’. This is not currently happening and I see little chance of it happening in the near future. It has also been the case that the parish council as a whole seem not to be able to work in a positive and collegiate atmosphere, the experience of being a parish councillor should be enjoyable for all, rather than the intimidating and toxic experience it has been over the last few months.
I have therefore reluctantly decided to resign as Chairman and as a Councillor in the hope that others may be able to improve matters.