November 2, 2015
Councillor speaks out after delays to decision on Apex Park BMX plans

A decision on whether controversial proposals to lease part of Highbridge's Apex Park to holiday firm Bourne Leisure has been delayed until January, it was revealed on Monday (November 2nd).

Proposals from Sedgemoor District Council to grant Bourne Leisure a 50-year ground lease for the existing BMX cycling site at Apex Park have been opposed by local residents and local councillors. A decision was expected this month.

But Highbridge district councillor Roger Keen, pictured above, spoke out about the surprise delay during Monday's Burnham and Highridge Town Council meeting.

"The consultation has dragged on long enough and the timetable is against us, so therefore it is time to announce our stand," he said. "We oppose the transfer of the lease from the BMX Club to Bourne Leisure or any other commercial organisation."

In what he described as a 'personal position statement' from both him and his wife - Cllr Janet Keen - he explained that neither would be able to attend the district council meeting in January when the decision is due to be taken.

"Due to the fact that the decision on Apex Park has now been put back to january as there has been a change of portfolio holder and that person has indicated that she would wish to review all information before it is discussed at the Executive meeting of SDC, against both of our requests not to do so, neither Janet or I will be able to attend ad out our case forward, nor will we be able to attend full council in January. Our absence during this period was planned and arranged long before the May elections."

He continued: "Therefore, as Highbridge and Burnham Marine district councillors we have decided to issue a position statement that we will request be presented at both the Executive meeting in January and full council if this topic goes to their agenda. We have taken advice from SDC legal department and our making of this statement is perfectly acceptable and does not contravene any protocol."

"Some time ago Bourne Leisure who operate the Holiday village in Marine Drive approached Sedgemoor District Council with a proposal - that they would fund the BMX Club's move to their desired larger premises, upgrade the Apex Rangers Office, extend the building to include a cafe and upgrade the public toilets."

"In return they would require the space vacated by the BMX Club to be the leased to them for a very long term - 50 years has been mentioned but not confirmed to us - and permission to place a number of hard standings for mobile homes and caravans. The financial reward to SDC if they permitted this transaction is as yet unclear."

"Our personal view is that the BMX area inside its fence is substantial and abuts woodland and open park with pathways around. After considering the proposal from Bourne Leisure and listening to the range of views of local people and also regular park users who may not be local but visit to appreciate the tranquillity and beauty of the park and its wildlife, we could not support the Bourne proposal."

"Our reasons for opposition are - Apex Park is not a commercial or industrial site for development and exploitation; Any lease signed with a commercial organisation would be for a long period and thus could be described as a 'legacy' transaction - in essence our next generation would inherit the landlord responsibilities."

He continued: "Such commercial leases would not have an 'exit' clause for SDC and breaking a lease would be very expensive with compensations etc. We do not know what the future holds or if circumstances should change for SDC. What if Bourne Leisure Holdings Ltd with its group of companies and all their assets were acquired by another company? It is a British private company registered in Guernsey, Channel Islands. First Ovalap Ltd is the largest shareholder in the Bourne Leisure group of companies, representing 97% of the issued share capital and holding 43% of shares with voting rights. A lease on any part of Apex Park would be just another asset with a balance sheet value, just a piece of paper on the desk of the faceless person far away from here. Under a scenario of change of ownership, the land could be in a limbo whilst lawyers on all sides took the time to arrive at a solution."

"This alone seems contrary to good governance practice by local authorities and we believe would be criticised by an impartial audit committee. As local representatives it is our duty to represent the views of the majority and in this instance we believe that the majority of the many who have spoken personally to us do not want to see that corner of Apex Park least to a holiday home provider for an unknown but considerable number of years."

"It is also our view that the local majority are not tempted by the financial gains by way of rent which would be paid to SDC."

Local resident Brian Burt, pictured right, welcomed the statement from Cllr Keen, saying that it was "I am extremely pleased with the statement from Roger Keen - it's what we've wanted. I do question why the decision has been delayed, though - I think it's been delayed because Sedgemoor are still trying to understand the full implications of the proposals - this is an extremely complicated deal."

Last month, Mr Burt urged councillors: "Please do not let any part of Apex Park be turned into a caravan park. The district council purchased and developed Apex for the benefit of local people, therefore every square metre should be retained for future generations. More so now, considering the hundreds of homes to be constructed in Highbridge."

"Sedgemoor's proposal is to rob Apex Park of a second area which is twice the size of the existing car park. It would become a 'no go area' for 50 years, if not forever, full of more caravans."

And Highbridge town councillor John Parkes, who recently described Apex Park as Highbridge's "jewel in the crown", told after Monday's evening he "applauds" the statement from Cllr Keen. "It's good that the strength of feeling in Highbridge is now understood," he added.

Sedgemoor District Council spokeswoman Claire Faun recently told "The land that the BMX Track is situated on within Apex Park is leased from Sedgemoor District Council. The BMX track and land are not available for public use but are used by the club for training and events. The BMX Club would like to expand and are considering relocating to a different site locally, thus terminating their current lease. This proposal would exclude housing developments as the land will not be sold but leased on a long-term basis."

"The district council - in exchange for offering a 50-year lease to another party for the BMX site - could secure some funding to enhance the facilities in the park, for example creating an all-weather year-round café facility, improving the toilet facilities and/or extending the park building to allow for increased educational and event use."

The proposals will be considered in January 2016 by Sedgemoor's Executive.

Video of the full statement from Cllr Roger Keen:


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