Written Questions

Public Meeting re Cotswold Water Park Society – 26th March 2010

Advance Written Questions to the Panel from the Parish Councils

 

INTRODUCTION

The Cotswold Water Park Society is a valued and integral part of the administration of the Water Park.  However, local communities have very grave concerns that the Society is now in a parlous state.   As representatives of the Water Park communities, the Parish Councils expect the Society to be managed in accordance with its constitution, and in a competent and prudent manner.

 

1.  CONSTITUTION AND REGULATION

QUESTION 1A:  The Society was incorporated as an Industrial and Provident Society in 1996, by Gloucestershire County Council’s legal team.  It was formed around a set of principal objects and rules to serve the community interest.  Does the Society’s Chairman agree that these should remain the principal objects of the Society?

QUESTION 1B:  The local communities expected the Joint Committee of local authority representatives to monitor the management of the Society carefully.  As Chairman of that Committee, can Councillor Parsons explain how the Society has been permitted to fall into the current state of financial crisis?

 

2.  FINANCES

The Society’s published accounts show reported losses totalling £952,000 for the two years ending 31st March 2008.   Moreover, it seems the Society was technically insolvent as at 31st March 2008, because the balance sheet showed short-term creditors (amounts falling due within one year) of £1.3m but available current assets of just £339,000.   This may have prompted the controversial deals to disposal of Keynes Country Park and the Gateway centre.   However, these disposals deprived the Society of its principal assets and its major sources of income.   Moreover, the sub-lease of Keynes Country Park provided the new tenant with a rent-free period from January 2008 to January 2010.

The latest accounts for 31st March 2009 are still overdue.

QUESTION 2A:  Can the Society’s Chairman explain what actions the Board has taken since March 31st 2008 to make good the losses, and improve the cash flow, in order to secure the future operation of the Society?

QUESTION 2B:  What reassurances can the Society’s Chairman give regarding the current financial standing of the Society?

QUESTION 2C: What new sources of income is the Board relying upon to generate the funds necessary to pay the running costs of the Society?

QUESTION 2D: As Chief Executive of the Society since 2005/6 can Mr Grant explain why the Accounts for March 2009 are late again?

 

3.  ORGANISATION

At the Water Park Joint Committee Parish Liaison Meeting in early 2008 and the May 2008 Joint Committee meeting, the Society’s chief executive announced a new organisational structure for the Society.   A ‘trading arm’ was created under a newly formed subsidiary group company called the COTSWOLD WATER PARK GROUP LTD.   At least five private limited companies - including the COTSWOLD WATER PARK ESTATES AND SERVICES LIMITED - were set up in 2007.  The cost to the Society of this restructure is shown in the accounts as £67,000.

QUESTION 3A:  We are informed that of the five trading companies incorporated under this strategy, four of them were dissolved in 2009 by the Companies Registrar for failing to submit accounts.  We are also informed that the fifth company - COTSWOLD WATER PARK ESTATES AND SERVICES LIMITED - had to re-submit its un-audited accounts twice because of significant accounting errors.  The share register maintained by Companies House shows that COTSWOLD WATER PARK ESTATES AND SERVICES LIMITED is not a wholly owned subsidiary of the Society, contrary to the report to the Joint Committee.  Can the Society’s Chairman fully explain the legal relationship between the Society and this company, and explain who the shareholders are?

 

Under Rule 3(p) of the Society’s Rules, in furtherance of the Principal Objects the Society shall have the power ..” to amalgamate with any companies, institutions, societies or associations which are charitable at law or who operate on a not for profit basis and have objects altogether or mainly similar to those of the Principal Objects  and prohibit the payment of any dividend or profit to, and the distribution of any, of  heir assets amongst, their members at least to the same extent as such payments or distributions are prohibited in the case of Members by these rules.”

QUESTION 3B:  How does the Chairman respond to concerns that the board’s restructuring strategy was both contrary to Rule 3(p) of the Society’s Rules, and an expensive failure?

4.  KEYNES COUNTRY PARK

In May 2007 the Water Park Joint Committee was given reassurances by the Society that “Public access to the park would not be prejudiced in any way”, as a consequence of the “Society investigating proposals for a joint venture ....based on a sub-lease of Keynes Country Park”.  Despite such representations made by the Society, later that year the Society proceeded to enter into a very different arrangement, the controversial sub-lease with Watermark.   The sub-lease apparently gives Watermark authority to treat the park as private property for the next 115 years, and to deny public the access previously enjoyed by local villagers and visitors for over 30 years.  As a consequence, the three local Parish Councils have recently submitted a formal application to have the public footpaths recognised as Public Rights of Way.

The Principal Objects of the Society are “… to carry on within the area of the Cotswold Water Park the business of providing and /or managing facilities in connection with the Park of an appropriate nature for persons resorting to the park for leisure, recreation, tourism, education, conservation and related matters for the benefit of the community.. and in relation thereto Rule 2(q) allows... the provision of a public park or another public facility of an environmental, educational or recreational nature, provided that the park or facility is not to be operated at a profit.

 

QUESTION 4A:  Does the Chairman acknowledge that the sub-lease to Watermark - a profit making commercial entity - is forbidden by Rule 2(q) of the Society’s own constitution, and should therefore be considered unlawful?

 

QUESTION 4B - to Councillor Shaun Parsons, as representative of Gloucestershire County Council: Given that the constitutions of both the Water Park Joint Committee and the Society emphasise a commitment to “maintaining and improving public rights of way”, will the County Council now support the Parish Councils’ application for the public footpaths in and around Keynes Country Park to be made formal Public Rights of Way?

 

QUESTION 4C - to Councillor Shaun Parsons, as representative of Gloucestershire County Council:  Documentation released under the Freedom of Information Act indicates that Council officers were pressed by senior persons in the County Council to authorise the sub-lease to Watermark on the terms they did, but the names of those senior people have not been revealed.  Given the considerable controversy and the efforts of now being expended by the local communities to retrieve some element of public amenity, will the County Council now provide the names of the senior persons who applied the pressure to permit the sub-lease to Watermark, and explain their motivations?

5.  THE WAY FORWARD

The panel must appreciate that this public meeting has arisen from a profound and growing unease that the Society and the Joint Committee are have not been properly representing the interests of the Water Park communities.   Therefore, in order to make the Society genuinely representative of those communities, full advantage should now be taken of the Society’s rules which permit any non local authority connected person - on payment of £1 - to become a shareholder of the Society.

 

Question 5:  Will the panel now agree to allow such wider membership, so as to include many more local residents and representatives of local communities, in accordance with the Society’s constitution?

 

15th March 2010

Somerford Keynes, Ashton Keynes and South Cerney Parish Councils

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