Parish meeting ruled ‘invalid’

JPCT 070113 Phil Bowell - made an MBE for services to British Industry and the Bahrain Community. Photo by Derek Martin

JPCT 070113 Phil Bowell - made an MBE for services to British Industry and the Bahrain Community. Photo by Derek Martin

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A resident claims Horsham District Council is at risk of acting ‘unlawfully’ by ruling a parish meeting invalid.

At a parish meeting last month, Steyning action group, Friends of Memorial Playing Field called for a referendum. It wanted to ask residents if they were for or against the parish council building a skatepark on the playing field.

However, Horsham District Council (HDC) said it had not arranged a poll and ‘cannot accept the outcome of the parish meeting’ because the meeting had been adjourned to a private residence.

An HDC spokesperson said: “For a parish meeting to be valid for the purpose of requiring a parish poll it should be held in a suitable public room. This is set out in section 134 of the Local Government Act 1972.”

On September 19, Friends of Memorial Playing Field (FoMPF) adjourned the parish meeting from Springwells in High Street to Toad Lodge, Newham Lane, where marquees had been raised in the front garden.

“The council does not consider that the parish meeting was held in a suitable public room and therefore cannot accept the outcome of the parish meeting and has not arranged a poll,” the spokesperson said.

However, FoMPF member Paul Campbell said that HDC had ‘jumped the gun’ and claimed it had ‘the facts and the law wrong’.

Mr Campbell said: “First, the meeting was not held in a room as alleged by HDC. It was held outside the house and so this cannot be relevant anyway. Second, the section [of the Act] is concerned with school premises or other premises maintained at public expense. The purpose of the provision about a room in a private dwelling is clearly to prevent a meeting being forced on a caretaker or a head teacher who is resident at a school, or some such similar residential occupier at another type of publicly-maintained building.

“Only by legal proceedings can the validity of this meeting be challenged. HDC should either call the poll or make application to the court. Failure to arrange the poll within the time limit will mean HDC has acted unlawfully.”

Steyning Parish Council chairman Phil Bowell said that the parish council had offered a hall at The Steyning Centre as a venue, but FoMPF refused. He said: “We said we’d help them facilitate the meeting. We’re now looking at a date when a large hall is available.

“We also want the clerk to be present to check that the people attending the meeting are on the electoral role.”