Town council accused of ‘double standards’

A town councillor who is leading the fight to save Horncastle Youth Centre has accused his colleagues of ‘double standards’ after they pulled the plug on a vital funding package.

Town Councillor Dominic Hinkins.
Town Councillor Dominic Hinkins.

Coun Dominic Hinkins chairs the trustees battling to re-open the youth centre and asked for £25,000 of financial support from the town council.

However, at an extraordinary on-line meeting last Tuesday evening, councillors voted 8-1 to veto the request.

Just 24 hours later, they agreed to support a project to re-develop a recreation area off Prospect to the tune of £50,000.

As well as a youth centre trustee, Coun Hinkins is a member the town council’s Recreation Park working group.

Speaking after the extraordinary meeting, Coun Hinkins: “I think my only significant additional point would be that a complete double standard has been applied to this request for £25,000 to be ring fenced for the youth centre compared to other projects like the £50,000 ring fenced for the Recreation Area.

“Both ring fenced reserves would have been a maximum amount to be drawn down for specific project costs at a point in the future when precise costs are presented.

“Neither involve any money changing hands for the time being.

“The park reserve was allocated without any documents, financial plans, etc. being presented, and with no properly designed public consultation.

“This was defended because: ‘no money is being spent yet.’

“The youth centre trustees provided reams of well-researched documentary evidence and costs, including evidence of huge public support, and it was still rejected on the grounds it was: ‘too soon’ to offer funding.

“The goal posts have been continually moved as the council has set ever more hoops for trustees to jump through to access this funding, culminating in Tuesday night’s fiasco.”

Coun Hinkins stressed the trustees would continue with the project which is aimed at re-opening the youth centre.

It was closed more than 18 months ago by owners Lincolnshire County Council, who claimed the cost of repairs did not merit it staying open.

Since then, a number of organisations that used the centre have struggled to find suitable premises while trustees put together a business plan.

Coun Hinkins outlined his proposal at the meeting and said it was a: ‘one off opportunity for the town council to put its name to help save a prominent and popular building.’

Councillors had met trustees a few days earlier in an: ‘informal meeting’ .

Coun Hinkins admitted the feedback convinced him several councillors had already made their minds up before the extraordinary meeting.

He denied concerns raised about the condition of the Youth Centre roof or potential problems with asbestos, saying two independent reports had said the roof had ‘years of life left in it.’

He also refuted suggestions that a reopened youth centre would compete with other venues –like Stanhope Hall and the community centre – for business.

He said: “I can understand the concerns because people have put blood, sweat, tears and cash into these (other) buildings but I don’t think the interpretation of the business plan is a fair one.

“The intention has never been to claim other venues are unsuitable.

“We would work alongside other venues and compliment what they have to offer.

“However, it seems the general feeling is the project costs would overrun or spiral out of control so any contribution from the town would be wasted.

“This is a one off opportunity for the council to put its name to a prominent building in the town centre.

“Many organisations would like to use the building. We’ve done full consultations and there is widespread support.”

Several youngsters spoke at the meeting to voice their support.

Rosella said: “Before the centre closed, we did use it a lot. I was using it every single day, pretty much. It’s our home and I’d love to see the building re-open.”

Katie added: The youth centre has had a massive impact on my life – and other people’s lives – because we have grown up with it from a young age. To see it not being there any more and not being able to use it would be really upsetting. Keep it open.”

Several residents pointed out the charges at other locations were too high for many organisations and added accommodation was limited at peak periods.

District councillor William Gray repeated his view that Horncastle needed a youth zone - based around the sports facilities off Coronation Walk.

He said he had spoken to the YMCA who had given their support for a youth zone, as had Magna Vitae, who run the gym and swimming pool at the town’s leisure centre.

He said: “I would not spend money on that building. I will make that clear now. It’s not necessary. It’s not fit for purpose in my opinion.

“Youth provision is needed and there are some great organisations involved in running activities.

“We need a more co-ordinated approach.”

Coun Gray added that if money was available, it should be spent on establishing the youth zone and employing trained professionals – rather than on an ‘outdated’ building.”

Several town councillors said they could not support Coun Hinkins’ request and asked why Lincolnshire County Council was not offering financial support.

Coun Matthew Wilkinson said it was a: ‘difficult, emotive and tricky’ subject.

He added: “25k is a huge commitment. What if other organisations come knocking? I’d love to be able to give them money, I really would. I’m stuck, I can’t support this.”

He said if the county council with it’s multi-million budget could not allocate any funding, then it was unfair to expect the town council to step in.

Coun Richard Barker said he had studied the business plan but claimed: ‘it did not stack up.’

He said that the trustees needed to supply more detailed information and prove that their plans were viable , before the town council could consider a funding package.

He added: “The county council has a lot to answer for and I do not see why we should be putting money in until they put their hand up and say they will pay a lump sum for a proper survey .”

Coun Brian Burbidge said: “If we agreed to this request, we would be throwing money at something that would want money throwing at it for a very, very long time. We can’t support this.”

Coun Angela Birchall stressed there was a need for youth provision and put forward an amendment, stating the town could should ‘ring fence’; the £25k until more details were available to make a decision.

However, the amendment failed by a 5-3 margin.

Coun Hinkins spoke again, answering many of the concerns raised by councillors.

He said trustees had put a lot of time into preparing the business plan and claimed some councillors had not read it.

He also stressed Coun Birchall’s amendment was along the same lines of as his initial proposal in that trustees only wanted the money to show the county council that there was support for the project.

He added the county council was due to make a decision on the future of the building this month and the £25k would have added to the case to re-open the building.

Before the final vote was made, Coun Alan Lockwood said Coun Hinkins’ summing up was a ‘complete ramble about what he thinks he is wrong with the town.’

Coun Lockwood added: “Unless it is viable for the town, we can’t support it.”

Councillors voted 8-1 against.