In spite of a last-minute bid by the Liberal Democrat opposition on Hertfordshire County Council to save Cuffley Camp, the fate of the outdoor centre looks to have been sealed after Conservatives councillors refuse to reconsider their decision to close it.
The future use of Cuffley Camp was cut short by the nine Conservative councillors of the council’s Cabinet, who agreed earlier in the month that the council should pay an undisclosed sum of money to withdraw from its lease agreements, leaving the tax-payer with a hefty bill reported to be over a million pounds.
A intervention by Liberal Democrat councillors secured a review of this decision, forcing a special meeting of the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, held yesterday. Leader of the Opposition Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst argued that the Cabinet had failed in its duty to give full and proper consideration to the facts of the decision, for example:
· The impact of closure on staff members employed at the site, who could now lose their homes
· Alternative finance options demonstrating the potential ongoing viability of the site
· The absence of discussions with land owners on the possible operation of the site by a new group prepared to invest and maintain the site for outdoor use
Despite many objections raised by opposition members, the Conservatives nonetheless voted to let the closure go ahead, endorsing the Cabinet’s original decision to close the camp.
Liberal Democrat Leader Stephen Giles-Medhurst said: "Clearly the Conservatives went into this important review meeting with their minds already made up. The Leader of the Council was briefing the press last week that the lease would be withdrawn irrespective of the forthcoming review. This heartless pre-determination is disappointing and concerning, particularly as it was made clear in yesterday’s review that not all the information was available to the Council and Cabinet at the time the decision was made. 9,000 people who signed a petition to save the camp have had their views ignored amidst legitimate concerns raised by us as the official opposition about a deeply flawed and rushed decision-making process. The Council will now pay an eye-watering sum to get out of Cuffley Camp, leaving thousands of local school children without a much-loved facility. It’s deeply saddening.”
A question asked last week by Lib Dem Councillor Barbara Gibson revealed that the Council decided last year that it would far sooner pay a significant sum of money to the landowners of the site only to end up with nothing at all, rather than invest money to retain a viable asset with strong community value. Lib Dem Councillor Nigel Quinton, a member of the scrutiny committee, branded this “a reckless waste of tax-payer money.”
Councillor Gibson adds: "The biggest travesty in all this is that it is a direct result of a decade of wilful neglect by the Conservative administration. They’ve knowingly allowed this valuable facility to sink into woeful disrepair, and covered up their ineptness, hiding information from the rest of the Council and from the public. Now we get the giant bill, and Hertfordshire’s children get nothing for it."