Harlington Funds – Just What Are You Paying For Now?

by For Fleet's Sake
 

HARLINGTON FUNDS UPDATE

CONFUSION OVER HARLINGTON’S FUTURE…AGAIN

The Harlington debate takes another turn this month as confusion grows over Fleet Town Council’s plans for the entertainment venue.

The future of the centre has been at the heart of discussions that included the development of Gurkha Square for quite a few years now, with the council backtracking and offering confusing and at times misleading advice about possible upcoming plans for the area.

Initially Fleet Town Council, in conjunction with Hart District Council wanted to demolish the Harlington centre and build a new version of it on Gurkha Square, rendering the area useless for any other public events, but after a public outcry, they finally appeared to be considering the preferred option of refurbishing the current building.

Since then, Fleet Town Council have managed to get the Fleet neighbourhood Plan passed, which controversially gave permission for development on the very area that local people protested against. Fleet Town Council also backtracked on earlier assurances that they would be looking at a refurb of the centre.

So where does that leave us now? Fleet Town Council do not want to spend your money (the huge ‘Harlington’ pot they have saved up for a new build) on maintaining the current building…so why are they doing just that? Let’s take a look at just how you’re paying for projects that you have no say over…

HARLINGTON FINANCES

Fleet Town Council have been taking funds from Fleet Parish residents since 2016 as they decided on your behalf that you – and only you – should pay for the building they wanted. Council tax was raised to include this amount and even during the times they assured the public that they wouldn’t be looking at a new build Harlington anymore, they continued taking your money. Maybe that should have given an indication of just how much truth was in their statement.

Many residents have asked that this money be refunded and are extremely angry that the council appears to be changing the rules as they go along. One local resident, Russell Hunt has been following the financial fallout of the Harlington funds…

Below: Local resident Russell Hunt is just one of many who have had enough of Fleet Town Council’s one track mind when it comes to developing the local area and using public finances as they choose.

Time to return our money!

Since the release of the FTC newsletter (August 2020) which informed us that the precept collected from Fleet residents was to “continue to be ring fenced whilst we await the outcome of Hart’s Civic Quarter regeneration investigations”, I have been communicating with FTC via the Chairman.

Some basic facts. The total amount collected to July 2020 is £1.83 million. The total expenditure to date is £ 415K leaving a balance of £1.42 million. A further £200k will be collected between August 2020 and March 2021 {all figures rounded}.

I asked why this money was not being returned to the residents as an FTC funded development would clearly not be going ahead. Note the comment FTC will continue to press to be involved in Hart’s plans for the regeneration of the civic quarter – any decision is not theirs.

I received two answers: (1) “We have explored all contingencies and monies collected through Council Tax cannot be returned to residents. If not used for the original purpose the funds must be used for public benefit” and (2) “It is not a foregone conclusion that all the Civic Quarter Development will be funded by Hart District Council.”

I have challenged the first argument. According to my reading of The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 there are mechanisms whereby the monies collected could be lawfully returned. I have put this to FTC and they are asking their advisors.

The second answer is equally worrying. It would appear that having obtained a little pot of gold they feel they have to right to spend it as the wish, irrespective of the purpose for which it was collected. My opinion is clear, if Hart wish to embark on some grandiose redevelopment, it must be funded by ALL of the residents of Hart – equally. Monies collected on one pretext must not be used to fund other projects.

So why am I raising a fuss about this issue now? It is the time of year when councils set their budgets for next year 2021-22. Unless action is taken, FTC will continue to apply the ”Harlington Tax” to our Parish precept . I think that this would be morally wrong.

Similarly, I think it is wrong that FTC continue to hold £1.4 million of council taxpayer’s money collected for one purpose, and diverted to another.

I shall continue to campaign for the cessation of the additional precept, and the return of taxpayer’s money, and will press FTC and the Policy and Finance Committee (next meeting Monday 19th October) to this end.

– Russell Hunt, Fleet Resident.

So will Russell and other local residents actually be listened to?…It may already be too late as the funds appear to be reducing rapidly…

NEW PLANS FOR HARLINGTON FUNDS

Recently, the roof of the Harlington has been repaired while the building is still under governmental lockdown restrictions, Hart District Council as owner of the actual building paid for these.

But now Fleet Town Council appear to be making plans to spend your money on refurbishing a building that they said they wouldn’t refurbish….and here we go again as we dive down deep into the FTC rabbit hole, where nothing appears to make any sense whatsoever.

You see, not only are the local council pushing ahead with repairs on a building they appear to have every intention of knocking down they have decided to add a few extras in too, spending their little pot of gold on technology that will allow the Harlington to install live stream technology for upcoming events.

Below: Minutes from Fleet Town Council meeting of 2nd September 2020.

The introduction of live streaming isn’t a bad thing in itself, in fact it could open up opportunities for those affected by Covid to bring in some income while allowing home viewers to enjoy shows again. But is it fair that our local council take money that residents don’t agree with paying in the first place, then spend it on whatever they want…without consulting anyone?

As things stand, Fleet Town Council have now agreed to spend £57,639 from reserve funds…so if anyone was hoping to get their money back anytime soon, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

As for the ongoing discussions on the development of the civic quarter, despite all their bluster there has been no information at all shared by the council with the people of Fleet. With the Harlington funds just waiting to be spent, it’s a fair bet where they will end up, as the veil of secrecy from this council continues to spread, rather than dissipate.

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