MEMBERS of Lyme Regis Bowls Club have warned town councillors that the sporting facility will close down by 2021 if they do not lower “outrageous” charges for their car parking area.
About 35 club members packed the Guildhall this week to object to the council’s latest proposal regarding the club’s lease for its car parking area at Monmouth Beach – to charge the club for 12 spaces at full market value, but to negotiate a percentage figure of this if the club was willing to relinquish use of the car park during agreed months.
The town clerk previously advised that the market value for each space was just under £2,000, so the total charge for the club’s car parking area would be about £24,000 – more than three times the amount currently paid, £7,752.
Several members of the bowls club objected to the suggested charge during the public forum, and complained that the council had been unwilling to meet with them to discuss the lease.
Discussions regarding the lease have been ongoing for two years, with little progress made between the two parties. The bowls club objected to the council’s previous proposal to charge for 24 car parking spaces at 50 per cent of the market value, arguing that there was only space for 11 cars.
After club members brought a to-scale model of the car park to a council meeting last year, showing the spaces marked out according to Dorset County Council regulations, the council settled on the figure of 12 car parking spaces but with the suggestion of charging full market value for them unless the club was willing to give up its parking area out of season.
Club captain Alan Nabarro condemned the council at this week’s meeting, describing the proposed charges as “outrageous”, “unethical” and “draconian”.
He commented: “We are here in numbers to protest the latest outrageous proposal this committee is being asked to approve. For several years we have requested that the council discuss the actual number of spaces in the car park. Only now, after our presentation last November in which we showed there were only 11 spaces there against the 24 spaces we had been charged for, you finally get around to measuring it and finally agree with us that’s it’s 11 spaces.
“In the autumn of 2016 the Assets on Monmouth Beach Working Group advised they would discuss charges with us when they had their final figures. Instead, they ignored this and passed a motion in November 2016, massively increasing the charges of the car park.
“We advised this was not viable for the bowls club to survive and requested meetings to discuss this, particularly as this was based on overcharging for the actual number of spaces – 24 against 11. All our requests for meetings have been refused continually and our only access to the council has been through attending the public forum – what a shocking way to treat us, really.
“With the council finally accepting the lower amount of spaces, you respond by charging an even higher amount than the original motion passed in 2016, withdrawing the standard reduction for commercial long-term leases – how unethical is this?”
‘Fairness only works one way’
Mr Nabarro said that the council’s consultant had advised that the club should be charged 30 to 50 per cent of the market value for their car parking spaces, adding: “I recall the anguish of this council when West Dorset District Council charged you just 20 per cent for the loss of their income in Charmouth Road car park for the skatepark. It seems fairness only works one way in this council.”
He continued: “Many councillors have professed support for the bowling club but when it comes to votes, it mysteriously evaporates. If you insist with these draconian charges the bowls club will not survive for long. What then?
“You are demanding we pay a quarter of a million pounds over the next 10 years. Do you want to lose one of the jewels in the crown of Lyme Regis. If not, do not pas the proposal put before you tonight and arrange a meeting between us so we can come to a fair solution.”
Several other club members also put forward arguments, including that the council should follow government policy to encourage exercise for older people; that the council gives out “generous grants” to local organisations but the bowls club had never requested funding; and that the club was an asset and attraction, bringing many visiting clubs to the town.
Club member Jim Mosley added: “If you implement your recommendation as you see tonight, the bowling club will cease to exist in 2021.”
Councillor Owen Lovell said that the bowling club’s car park was always “chock-full of cars” and that the club had willingly signed up to numbers of spaces and figures set by the council when they first asked for a parking area.
He also pointed out that the council had previously contributed to the club, spending £30,000 to replace fencing.
He added: “I make no apologies for saying, that if I take up the exercise argument that was made tonight, you might suggest they park at Woodmead Halls and walk down.”
His comments received jeers from the public forum, with club members shouting: “Disgraceful!”
Councillor Lovell added that the proposal under discussion was a starting negotiating figure for the council and not necessarily the final charge, and asked club members to “be realistic”.
Councillor Derek Hallett spoke in favour of the bowls club, winning cheers from the packed Guildhall.
He said: “There’s four clubs down there, this is the first one to come up and we can all see the financial situation that could ruin this club and go on to ruin the power boat club, sailing club.
“These people work their socks off trying to raise money, they have amazing competitions down there, they invite dozens of clubs to the town.
“This council is money mad, we’re not supporting the community whatsoever. We give hundreds of thousands to all the other things, they ask for nothing, for heaven’s sake support them.”
Councillor Jeff Scowen commented: “I think the bowling club is an amazing asset to the town, I love it. It’s a shame we’re in this position but we need to come together and come to an agreement for both sides.
“We are not money mad, we are well off and we can afford a fair settlement. We want you to survive and thrive, you are a tremendous asset. We want you to survive but we have an obligation to look after the town’s money as well, so you have to see it from our side.”
He emphasised Councillor Lovell’s point that the proposal was a starting point for negotiations, asking club members not to be “horrified” by the words ‘full market value’.
Councillor Stan Williams added: “It’s one of the best club’s in the country… the club is vitally important, very popular, brings people from all over the country and we should fully support it.”
It was eventually agreed to charge the club for 12 spaces at full market value, but to negotiate a percentage figure of this if the club was willing to relinquish use of the car park during agreed months.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Nabarro said he was pleased they had made some progress as the council had agreed to negotiate with the club and had accepted the lower number of car parking spaces.
He added that the club was happy to discuss giving up its parking area during certain months and come to an agreement with the council.