“Confusion, Hypocrisy and Misrepresentation”: Council’s response to closing historic Club

Campaigners fighting for the Rochester Way Club in Eltham to be re-opened after the council suddenly closed it earlier in the year, were given two contrasting answers from Labour Councillors at the Full Council on Wednesday.

 

The community turned out in force to put their case to fight for the 100 year old Rochester Way Club to remain open and were reassured by the Cabinet Member in charge, Cllr Kirby that “…the future of the club needs to be viable and we need to engage with local residents as to what the future will be……”.  

 

But once the residents had given the deputation and left the Council Chamber, Leader of the Council, Denise Hyland, responding to a question from Leader of the Opposition, Cllr Spencer Drury, said “……This is a club who was not viable……our intention is to bring that forward into Social Housing”  The complete opposite to what had been promised to campaigners when they were present.

 

Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Eltham, Spencer, who presented a petition to the Council with 800 signatures on it asking to save the Club said “This is disgraceful.  The confusion, hypocrisy, obfuscation and misrepresentation from the council is absolutely disgusting.  The Rochester Way Social Club has provided a valuable venue for local people to meet and socialise for a hundred years.  The club’s users were the ones that let the Council know about the upstairs was being used as a hostel, which the council then evicted,  and are now using it as an excuse to close the club; punishing the very community who tried to do the right thing in the first place.

 

“It is deeply frustrating that the Labour Councillors, especially the Leader of the Council Denise Hyland, can’t even agree with each other and certainly aren’t doing anything to work with this community. Labour Councillors said one thing when residents were present, but something completely different when they had left. I’m not sure if it was done on purpose but it certainly resulted in the community being misled;  leaving with the impression that the Council was more open to change than it actually is.

 

“I went to the Club for an event this summer and it was a thriving venue with loads of people enjoying it.  It really is the only space which the community can use in the area.Labour are increasingly out of touch with the working communities that surround them especially it seems those in Eltham.    Labour doesn’t seem to really care very much or understand these communities and would rather take the easy option of closing down facilities which support the working class  way of life rather than finding solutions to keep them going.

 

 “I am writing to Cllr Hyland asking for a clear statement on the Council’s approach to the Rochester Way Club.  As residents said in their deputation, they are normally Labour voters, and I can’t believe they are now being ignored and their community attacked by the same party they have voted for in the past.  I hope the Council sees sense and works to help the community reopen this important social venue.”

 

The transcript of the relevant replies is below:  

 

Full Council 5th November 2014

 

In response to the residents’ Deputation to Full Council, Cllr Kirby said:

“Thank you Mr Mayor and thank you to so many residents for coming out tonight with the public deputation.  As residents said as part of their response the recent history of the Club has been problematic.  The Police and Fire Service were recently involved when 60 people were being unlawfully housed in the Club as a hostel.  What is clear from standing here and the deputation tonight is that the future of the Club needs to be viable and we need to engage with local residents as to what the future will be; and we need to engage with residents.”

In summary, the Council seems to want to engage with residents over what the future of the Rochester Way Club will be.

However, in answer to a further question from the Leader of the Opposition, Cllr Spencer Drury, when the residents protesting about the way the Rochester Way Club had been closed, had left the chamber, the Leader of the Council, Cllr Denise Hyland appears to say something completely different.

Members’ Written Questions

Question 18: Councillor Hyland’s Response to the Supplementary Question

“Thank you very much Mr Mayor and thank you for your supplementary Councillor Drury.

Look I think it is important to look at what has gone on here, this is a Club who was not viable, totally unviable, and they had to resort to bringing in people into their Club, the equivalent of beds in sheds.  And it was brought to our attention we enforced against it and in doing so there was a dialogue with the Club where we ended up buying the freehold, buying the lease back and settling the bill for that. 

Our intention is to bring that forward into social housing.  If we can get, if it is feasible to put a small pub there, if we use it for that, then we will but we also have to make sure we have enough school places.  So before we commit it to affordable housing we will in fact make sure we have enough school places for our residents.  If and when we commit to social housing, which I think in fairness that is the direction of travel, then we will look at a small pub.  We will look at how feasible that would be.  But, you know, if the 600 people who put their names on the petition actually drank there and socialised there and paid a membership there it wouldn’t be unviable would it and we now would not have gone n like the cavalry and rescue the situation.

I would say to you that you have a responsibility, in the same way we do, to make sure that residents, that people in Eltham and people in this Borough have got the housing that is needed because over the next few years we are going to have the equivalent of Gravesend dropped on Greenwich.  That’s where the population figures are going; and the population of Birmingham is about to land on the whole of London in the next few years.  Housing is the number one issue for London and I am sure you recognise that.  You can go and meet people and give them a sop around what you might do for them around their social club but the fact is there is a greater responsibility and you talk about 100 years ago, life has changed in 100 years, people don’t have to walk round the corner to a social place, they can travel. 

Now we will do what we can, we have a very good community centre in Turning Pages and if people want a small pub we will look to see what we can do within that development.  We will explore it, we are not making a commitment to it but we are going to explore it on behalf of the people who came here tonight.”

So suddenly the Leader of the Council has completely changed the position to “Our intention is to bring that forward into social housing” and “life has changed in 100 years, people don’t have to walk round the corner to a social place, they can travel.”  Cllr Hyland finishes with a statement that Turning Pages is a very good community centre and they will see if they can put a small pub within that development. 

So what happened to engaging with residents over the future of the Club?  This takes out of sight is out of mind to a whole new level.