£96k Partnership loss ‘not major’

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ESCC leader Keith Glazier

About 35 people attended Rye Partnership’s annual meeting on March 12. Of the seven directors who act as trustees for the company four were present: Cllr Keith Glazier (chair), Cllr Sam Souster, Cllr Jo Kirkham and Gina Sanderson.

The meeting began with a presentation and a Q&A session about the proposed sale and redevelopment of the former Tilling Green school site. East Sussex County Council currently owns the site and leases the school building to Rye Partnership, which bases its offices there and also runs the Tilling Green Community Centre.

However, the county now wishes to sell the site. One bidder has come forward: Amicus Horizon, the local housing association. It has proposed to buy the freehold of the site and has drawn up plans to build 30 new houses on the playing fields. It also proposes to demolish the existing school buildings and replace them with a new, smaller, purpose-built community centre.

Glazier pointed out that he was not fully informed of all the details of these plans, owing to a potential conflict of interest, being both the chairman of Rye Partnership and leader of the county council. Both he and Martin Jones, a fellow director of Rye Partnership and also of Amicus Horizon, had distanced themselves from the negotiating process. Another Partnership director, Ian Ross, had been delegated with sole responsibility for overseeing the process, and he was also responsible for community consultation on the proposed new community centre. However, as Ross was unable to attend the annual meeting for the second year running, the briefing was led by Glazier.

He said that the sale process had been delayed by problems, citing the additional cost of resolving drainage and potential flooding issues where the land bordered on to the Old Brickyard at the back of the property. But he was confident that this would soon be resolved, the transfer of ownership could then take place to Amicus Horizon and, dependent upon the necessary planning approval being granted by Rother sometime in April, building work on the houses and new centre could begin at the start of next year.

John Wylie, a Tilling Green resident and member of the local residents’ association, who has publicly expressed concerns about the reduced size of the new centre and drawn up detailed alternative plans for a new building [see ‘Tilling Green rethink needed‘] did not speak at the meeting. However, as it appears that the design for the new centre has been finalised by Amicus Horizon and is ready for submission, it seems unlikely that there will be further opportunity for consultation about the building or its layout. Glazier did suggest there would be the opportunity for further public consultation on how the new centre would be run.

Glazier then moved on to give an account of the main activities of the Partnership during the past year. The organisation continues to manage a number of properties, some freehold and some held on leases. One of these is the fish processing facility next to the fish quay, which the Partnership holds a lease from the Environment Agency. Several tons of frozen fish had been left behind by a former tenant who had gone bankrupt, and these had to be removed. Glazier indicated that it could have cost the Partnership in excess of £40,000. A new tenant has now been found – Chapmans of Sevenoaks. Glazier said the Partnership hoped to develop a regeneration plan for the area in the vicinity of the fishing quay and the Rye peninsular.

The Partnership also owns the freehold of Rye Harbour Stores and the shop continues to do well and the flats above are let. It has managed a couple of projects – the Rural Employability Project and the Community Learning Partnership – and, he said, it has helped a number of young people back into work. It has helped obtain funding for Rye Museum and assisted with events organised for the museum.

Glazier said the Partnership offices now had new computers and that a website would become live on May 15. This comes six years after the National Audit Office had said in its report on the Partnership in March 2009 that it “should give serious consideration to relaunching a website of its own and promoting its content to local residents”. Glazier pointed out that the Partnership has both a Facebook page and a Twitter account, though these currently appear to have no details about the Partnership projects mentioned above (see photo from Facebook, below, taken this week).

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Regarding the audit office report Glazier specifically asked Rye News to record on his behalf as chairman of Rye Partnership that the report had found “nothing”. The report can be found in full here.

Accounts presented by Glazier showed a loss of £96,000 for the year.  This loss was not explained in the documentation and objections to the lack of information were raised. In response Glazier stated that this was not considered a major loss and did not give the Partnership any cause for concern. The accounts were formally passed, with six members voting in favour of approval and two abstaining. The re-election of the existing seven directors swiftly followed and the formal part of the meeting was brought to an end. There were a few more questions about the design of the community centre and Rita Cox spoke up in the defence of the Partnership.

Finally, Anthony Kimber, who is vice chair of the Rye Neighbourhood Plan steering group, asked what system was in place to ensure that Rye Town councillors were represented on Rye Partnership.

Kirkham clarified that she did not officially represent the town council, only Rye Voluntary Services. Souster said that he represented Rother District Council rather than the town council. Some confusion followed until it was established that Cllr John Breeds and Cllr Heidi Foster are the official Rye Town council representatives who could be invited to members’ meetings on selected occasions. It then became clear that, in fact, there are no Rye Town council representatives on the board of directors of Rye Partnership. Kimber asked if this meant that members of the public could seek information about the Partnership from these representatives at any Rye Town council meeting.

Although Glazier confirmed this, Rye News discovered, on making inquiries at the Town Hall, that to date no reporting back from Rye Partnership has ever taken place at Rye Town Council, and that the Town Hall is not copied in on any minutes of member or director meetings, or any other official information from Rye Partnership.

See also Challenging questions to directors – word-by-word

* There are currently about 30 members of the Rye Partnership. Those who attend are given voting slips. Non-members are not entitled to vote at the annual meeting. It costs £1 to join the Partnership. Rye News last week sent three emails to Rye Partnership seeking clarification about board roles, membership and the website but no replies have yet been received

Image Credits: Rye News library .