Asset transfer to Portland's new town council harder than it seems

Asset transfer to Portland's new town council harder than it seems

Published by George Sharpe at 9:30am 10th February 2019.

Portland Museum say they're worried.

Portland Mayor Charlie Flack says the island has been ‘kicked in the teeth’ over the way assets being switched to Portland have been handled.

The issue has also caused concern for the Portland Museum which says it is worried that the uncertainty could lead to a loss of grant income.

It had been believed that all assets would simply switch to the town council in April when the new council structures come into place – but last week Portland was told that the assets could only be operated ‘on licence’ for a year, until legal transfers were concluded.

Cllr Sandy West told a Weymouth and Portland borough management committee meeting on Tuesday that she feared unless the assets were transferred now the island might never get to own what belonged to it.

She said that with the new Dorset Council’s need for income to support vital services she worried that land on Portland and other assets would be sold.

“To quote Shakespeare ‘there is something rotten in the state of Denmark’,” she said.

Island Mayor Cllr Charlie Flack used the public session of the management committee to tell borough councillors: “Portland Town Council wish to formally register their dismay and disgust as to the farce concerning the division of assets relating to local government reform.”

He said that many meetings had been held over the past year and the transfers had been agreed by both the borough council and the shadow Dorset executive – only to discover that the transfers would not be taking place immediately.

He said the town council had since set its precept based on the additional services it had planned to be running and had gone as far as advertising for new staff.

Cllr Flack said that two meetings in a row with Weymouth and Portland Borough council officers had been cancelled at the last minute – only to then discover that all the Portland assets, which include playing fields, car parks and cemeteries, were being transferred to the new Dorset Council.

He said the change of plan had led to a great deal of upset and uncertainty and called for a guarantee that the assets would be transferred after a year. He also asked if the Dorset Council would be responsible for staff and equipment it would need for the year and what position Portland Town Council should adopt for setting its next budget.

“These last minute changes are a kick in the teeth to the residents of Portland and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council should hold their heads in shame for allowing matters to progress as they did and totally mislead Portland Town Council over local government reorganisation.”

Borough council leader Cllr Geoff Cant, who is also a shadow executive member, said he could guarantee the transfer of assets to Portland Town Council would take place, but that it would take up to a year to get all of the legal details sorted out.

Cllr Paul Kimber, Portland, said there might also be complications over the involvement of the Court Leet in both Victoria Gardens and Easton Gardens.

He said that situation had become Portland’s own Brexit :” Only we haven’t got two and a half years to negotiate and deal with it,” he said.

Cllr Kimber said that town council had done everything asked of it only to find itself ‘hit by a bombshell’ when the lease of assets was suggested, rather than transfer. He called for cross-party support to resolve the situation.

A debate on the issue was cut short when committee chairman Cllr Geoff Cant became unwell after outlining the council’s position and calling for the first speaker. He said both the borough council and the shadow executive had given 100 per cent support to the transfer of assets – but legal complications meant the work could not be completed by March 31st.

“There is no question at all of renaging on this…they will be transferred over a period of time to Portland. It’s 100 per cent guaranteed. It will happen.”

+ Amongst the assets to be switched from the Weymouth and Borough Council to the Dorset Council are the island’s free car parks, various clocks and monument at public spaces, including the Olympic Rings, the Portland Cemetery at Weston Road and the Strangers Cemetery at Victory Road.

Several fishing huts are also included at Chiswell, the Islanders Club for young people at East Weare Road, Portland Skate Park, Portland Museum, Victoria Gardens and Easton Gardens and many small strips of land, together with almost all of the play areas and Officers Field.

Public toilets at Fortuneswell, Yeates Road, Easton Gardens and Chiswell will also be transferred with the tennis courts and bowls club at Victoria Gardens.

By Trevor Bevins, Local Democracy Reporter