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Letter: I Wish to Correct Responses to My Article on Burchatts Barn

Published on: 31 May, 2020
Updated on: 31 May, 2020

Burchatts Barn – Photo Mandy Millyard

From Gavin Morgan

In response to: Gavin Morgan’s Letter on Burchatts Barn Has Been Misunderstood

I am puzzled by Mr Plumridge’s letter because my own contribution had nothing to do with him or his client. They won their case and got what they wanted. I wish them well.

And yet, for some reason, Mr Plumridge wants to undermine the credibility of my letter by calling it “tiresome criticism by the uninformed”. Cllr Spooner weighs in by fully agreeing and talking about “misinformation thrown around to damage the Conservative administration”. It is neither and whilst I welcome debate, I feel I should correct them.

If Mr Plumridge and Mr Spooner had read my letter properly, they would have seen that it posed questions rather than criticisms. It was concerned with the justification for closing the barn to public hire on the questionable grounds that the building cost the GBC around £70,000 a year to run.

It was not about who the building was leased to. My motives were made clear. I said I hope the KPMG review into the closure of Burchatts Farm Barn  “will be enough to learn valuable lessons and put in place policies and safeguards for the future”. I stated my sources and where they were not clear I used words like “apparently” and “appears”. And as for wanting to damage the Conservative administration, why does wanting to improve processes have to be regarded as a political attack?

It is all in the letter. Do I really have to spell it out?

Now to Mr Plumridge’s specific points. In reply to a comment in my letter that “Guildford is losing a beautiful community hall”, he wants us to believe that “Guildford is losing nothing”. He argues that a health facility has “community use” as defined by the law.

But as Mr John Perkins points out in his letter, that does not make it a community hall, as it was. Burchatts Farm Barn is no longer available to hire for weddings and public events throughout the year. That’s fine. The appeal has been won. The decision has been made but others should not try to kid people that nothing has changed. It has.

As for the claim I was being “mischievous” and misinterpreting the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework], my point was clearly stated. I said, “we should be wary of allowing parts of our public parks to be gradually turned into business parks.” I said that legislation “appears to agree” and I think it does. Interpret the legislation differently if you like but my point remains the same.

With regards to the costs, Mr Plumridge claims I “made no allowance for the cost of management, cleaning, gardening or repair”. How could I? We don’t have the details. We just have ballpark figures which do not appear to add up. That is why I asked if the figures are accurate.

For anyone who wants the details, here they are. The justification for closing Burchatts Farm Barn as a facility for public hire appears to have been on the grounds that it cost £70,000 a year to run. This was the figure that was frequently used and I want it investigated.

My doubts are based on the 2017 General Fund Outline Budget which I found on the council’s website. This predicted that in 2019/20 the costs the barn would be £76,000 and stated that the option to keep the barn for public hire had been rejected “as it costs £40,000 – £70,000 per annum to run”.

The document breaks down this figure of £76,000 into £40,000 running costs and £36,000 rental income. Some might think this works out as £4,000 net cost to the council but no, the two figures were added together.

I presume the rental was measured as a cost because it was allocated elsewhere in the council’s overall budget.  But whilst this approach might be fine for internal budgeting I cannot see how it can be used to justify the closure of the building.

However, the Outline Budget document then says the business case for leasing the building was that it “should derive a saving of £70,000 -£100,000”.  This confused me even more. By closing a building that appears to cost the town £4000 a year we can save possibly £100,000? The expected income from the lease is £36,000. So even if all the costs of the building vanished it would not be £100,000 or even £70,000.

However, it is highly likely that much of the £40,000 running costs were shared central costs for the things Mr Plumridge mentioned eg cost of management, cleaning, gardening or repair. Will those vanish or just be redistributed? If it is the latter then the saving on running costs will not be £40,000. As I said in my letter, “I cannot see how the figures add up” but since these figures were used to justify the council’s decision they should be checked out.

So that is it. There may well be a plausible explanation but attempts to dismiss my points as “misinformation” or “tiresome criticism by the uninformed” are not acceptable. I am not looking to criticise but if my points highlight deficiencies in the way decisions have been made in the past then I want improvements to be made.

I have sent my letter to the council requesting that it is submitted to KPMG for their review. It is important that these points are in the open but it is for the council to review them (and no doubt other points). I await the outcome.

Regarding my sources: the information on how the costs were worked out, ie the Outline Budget, is on the council website link below (p28-30) – link below. http://www2.guildford.gov.uk/councilmeetings/documents/s9050/Item%2010%204%20-%20General%20Fund%20Outline%20Budget%202018-19%20-%20summary%20of%20growth%20bids%20and%20proposals%20for%20savings.pdf

This is the Outline Budget: http://www2.guildford.gov.uk/councilmeetings/documents/s9046/Item%2010%20-%20General%20Fund%20Outline%20Budget%202018-19.pdf

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