Response to Hartlebury Parish Council’s 'Statement' dated 9th March 2023
Hartlebury Parish Council ('the Council') has issued a statement to residents, via its website pages, dated 9th March 2023. This contains a number of accusations and allegations, mainly directed at the Hartlebury Parish Hall Management Committee and its Trustees ('the Trust'). It is not clear what the Council hopes to achieve in issuing the statement; perhaps the motivation is in trying to appear effective and conscientious towards the local community ahead of the forthcoming election on 4th May 2023?
Nonetheless, the published statement is less than truthful and therefore requires a detailed response from those who know the facts. The paragraphs in the statement are numbered and reproduced in bold italics below together with an appropriate response in each case:
1. “Members of the Parish Council have worked tirelessly for 3 years to try and work with Hartlebury Parish Hall Management Committee (HPHMC) to resolve issues with the Community Project but it has come to point where the situation is untenable.”
This paragraph describes the exact opposite of what in truth has happened. The Council, motivated by dislike and animosity towards members of the previous Parish Council, has refused to carry out essential care and maintenance to the Community project works and has sought to make things as difficult as possible for the Trust.
In particular, the Breedon gravel surfacing to the car park, which requires topping up and repairs to holes and ruts during the first 2-3 years as it hardens, was deliberately left to deteriorate to a point where the Council closed the car park and received a Planning Enforcement Notice from Wychavon District Council. Repairs had to be undertaken by Worcestershire Highways to re-open it for Trust customers. This contrasts directly with the same surfacing at Hartlebury Castle, where the necessary care and maintenance was carried out.
The Council has sought every opportunity to close the car park or restrict access to the Parish Hall, typified by its recent complete closure of the car park for gravel repairs near the car park entrance. The repairs contractor did not consider it necessary for the car park to be closed and in any event, the area of repairs could have been locally cordoned-off, with the car park exit temporarily also used as an entrance.
The Council’s refusal to allow the patio brickwork repairs offered free of charge by its Contractor in March 2021 is also indicative of an unhelpful attitude towards the Trust.
2. “At last night’s Parish Council meeting, a vote was taken and it was agreed with regret, that forfeiture of the lease with HPHMC will take effect immediately. It is regrettable that we have to do this and it is and it is important that you read the following to give greater awareness as to why we have taken this course of action.
- The Village Hall is leased to HPHMC by the Parish Council and they are responsible for the fabric of the building, including the patio/terrace.
- The car park, village green, MUGA car park, tennis court, gym, Petanque Court and all play equipment are owned by the Parish Council.
- The community project was a joint project between the Parish Council members and HPHMC.
- After the project several members of the previous Parish Council left and became members of HPHMC.
- The current Parish Council started their term in January 2020. None of the current Parish Councillors were in post, during the community project design and construction.”
The lease agreed between the Council and the Trust in 2006 was executed as a deed and binds both parties. There have been no actions or inactions on the part of the Trust that would justify a “forfeiture” of the lease for the Hall and it is respectfully suggested that the Council obtains appropriate advice before seeking to repudiate the agreement.
As regards the Trust’s alleged responsibility for the patio, any unresolved defects in the works arranged by the Council under its various contracts with other parties are a matter for resolution by the Council. The Trust has no responsibility for the upkeep of any unfinished works unless and until the Council resolves the defects. The Trust was a funding partner in the Community Project and raised £155k of the overall funding, but it was not a party to any of the contracts.
The fact that some former Councillors are now Hall Trustees is irrelevant, but mention of it is perhaps revealing. Is it surprising that people who volunteer their time to serve or help their community, will continue in other village organisations? It seems to be the modus operandi of some that serve the current Council to try and discredit the work of other volunteers and previous Councillors. In particular, those involved in the current Council who served in the previous Council and resigned in mid-2017, seemed to be obsessed with discrediting the work of the 2011 to 2015 Parish Council, prior to their resignation. What positive outcomes for the community are there from this obsessive pattern of behaviour?
3. “When issues started to appear with the quality of the community project the Parish Council found that most of the documentation was missing and the project administrator (a former parish councillor) was not forthcoming with providing any copies or any help whatsoever.”
Until the unfortunate latent damage to the patio brickwork was discovered, where the mortar had failed to withstand the frosts in the winter of 2020/21, there were no serious issues with the quality of the community project and there are still no other serious issues, five years after most of the work was completed.
The “project administrator” or Contract Administrator (“CA”) resigned from the Council in May 2019, due to the serious illness of his partner, who had also assisted the project and who subsequently passed away. However, he completed his duties to the project, certifying payments to the Contractor in November 2019, January 2020 and July 2020 and liaising with the design consultant to clear defects inspections under the contract.
The inspection of defects to the Play Areas in February 2020 involved the CA in scheduling a report from RoSPA, which required some actions on the part of the Contractor and some maintenance work by the Council. When the Contractor later cleared defects in June 2020 (after the first coronavirus lockdown) it was noted that the Council had not completed their scheduled maintenance, but were allowing the Play Areas to continue in use.
In early March 2021, the CA met a Director of the Contractor on site to inspect the unstable patio brickwork and obtained agreement that the failure was a workmanship issue for the which the Contractor was liable. The Contractor’s offer to repair/rebuild the brickwork free of charge was communicated to the Council on 11th March 2021. The patio remains unrepaired!
All original documentation relating to the project was held by the previous Parish Clerk, including drawings, specifications, approval documents and the priced Bills Of Quantities of Midland CSB Limited. Unpriced versions of the tender documents were also held electronically and the CA had his own working copies. After receiving threatening correspondence from the current Parish Clerk in December 2020 and January 2021 however, he was advised by PI insurers to secure his documentation and have no further dealings with the Council. (The request for him to deal with the patio brickwork problem originated with the Trust).
4. “On examining what paperwork the Council had, they discovered that the quantity of materials on the invoices did not match the materials on site. It is estimated that somewhere between £80k -£105k unaccounted for.”
This is complete nonsense arising from an ignorance of how construction work is valued and paid.
The Contractor was paid on a monthly interim basis using a traditional gross valuation of work carried out against the Bills of Quantities (“BQ”) with an allowance for unfixed materials on site. At each interim valuation, some or all of the previous months materials allowance would have been used and absorbed into the BQ items; this would have occurred throughout the project until the Contractor finished the works. In this case the Contractor did complete all the works and there is therefore no payment for materials on site and no sum of “…£80k -£105k unaccounted for…”!
The Council has all the payment certificates and it is possible to see that transient allowances for materials on site reduced and then disappeared as the works reached completion. Why publish false allegations that are so easily discredited? Also, Community Project spending was fully accounted and audited, which is not the case with accounts of the current Council!
5. “The Parish Council has tried to reason with HPHMC but have been met with been met with hostility and legal action. To date they have issued the following against us:
Legal action for payment of their patio doors £5205
Legal action for payment of the patio terrace area £8942”
The Council has made little or no attempt to reason with the Trust and has tried to get the Trust to assume responsibility for actual and alleged defects under its contracts with others.
There was a provisional allowance of £5000 in the Community Project construction contract for patio doors, which remained unspent and retained in project funds. Consequently, the Trust had to provide and install the doors using its own (non-project) funds. The Council initially requested a £5,000 refund from the Trust(!) and then refused to make good the Trust’s own spending.
As the Council refuses (or is unable) to get the patio brickwork repaired, (despite its Contractor’s March 2021 offer of free repairs), the Trust has no option but to seek recompense to fund its own direct repairs. The Trust is answerable to the Charity Commission and cannot assume a responsibility for defects under contracts to which it not a party. Also, as the Council did not take-up its Contractor’s March 2021 offer, it is unlikely that the Contractor will still undertake free repairs after the damage has been exposed to two further winters.
The legal actions are easily settled if the Council would simply co-operate with the Trust to resolve these issues.
6. “The HPHMC have to date failed to
- Rectify the defects to the patio/terrace
- Paid towards repairs to roadways or general areas as per 2006 lease
- Paid the agreed peppercorn rent
- Abide by the PC’s request not to use the car park after it had been repaired”
The Trust is not liable to rectify defects under the Council’s contracts with others, as explained above.
In 2017/18, the Trust raised £155k towards the cost of refurbishing “…roadways or general areas…”
Covenant 2 of the 2006 lease requires the Trust to pay a peppercorn rent of £1 per annum “if demanded”. The Council has made no demands and it is probably the case that the administration of the obligation would cost more than the rent. In any event, the matter is easily resolved.
The Trust is not responsible for management of the Council’s car park or for members of the public who decided to remove traffic cones to gain access to it.
7. “The Council have spent enough time and money trying to resolve this and feel that there is no alternative but to bring a forfeit of the lease. The result of this forfeiture will mean that we will not be able to pursue the misappropriation of fund as per the lease deed as it is not possible to pursue a resigned trustee personally. Please understand that the Parish Council has pursued all avenues to fulfil its role in governance.”
This Council has wasted considerable public money obtaining reports and making unnecessary tests etc., in a vain attempt to discredit the Community Project. The only serious defect could have been repaired free-of-charge, but it seems probable that the Council has let the Contractor “off the hook” in its efforts to disadvantage the Trust. The Trust is not in breach of its lease agreement with the Council, it is the Council that is in breach by failing to resolve the defect described and by failing to co-operate with the Trust, in the manner of previous Councils.
8. “Going forward the Parish Council with the hall under its control, will be seeking grants from Wychavon District Council and other sources to build a New Hall to replace the structure of the old since there are issues with the safety of the build as highlighted in the engineers report.”
The present Hall, which was built by volunteers in the 1950’s, was refurbished in 2016 with new sports changing facilities, improved toilet, kitchen, storage and bar facilities and insulated exterior cladding to improve the appearance of the original “Cornish Unit” construction. It has no structural or other significant issues and replacement of a well-used and appreciated local building would be a complete waste of public money and/or charitable funding.
It is assumed that the engineers report referred-to is the document the Council published in 2021. It was a poorly researched, biased/one sided statement, which failed to diagnose the patio wall issue correctly and made a series of unproven allegations about the Community Project that have failed to materialise as actual defects. It is easily discredited.
The Council’s statement of 9th March 2023 is ill-conceived and incorrect both in fact and in law. Nothing expressed in it establishes any significant fault on the part of the Trust. The Trust is not in fundamental breach of its obligations under the terms of the 2006 lease and will not be giving-up the Hall, or handing over any keys.