Liberal Democrat County Councillors are seeking to overturn a decision by the Conservative County Council to close the Cuffley Camp Outdoor Centre, securing a review of the decision by the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee in the next two weeks.
On Monday afternoon the Conservative-only Cabinet of the County Council decided to terminate the lease on Cuffley Camp despite having to pay an undisclosed six figure sum to do so. The decision ignores objections from over 9,000 petition signatories. The news was met with dismay by campaigners trying to keep the well-used centre open for Hertfordshire’s schoolchildren.
Figures showed that 8,203 children used the centre in 2016/17. Information obtained by the Liberal Democrats has shown that the County Council had failed to make payments of almost £300,000 due under its lease arrangements to maintain the centre. Liberal Democrat councillors had proposed that the council should talk to the landlord first and only end its lease once it was certain that somebody else had been found to operate the camp, but this was rejected by the Conservatives.
In a little used procedure known as ‘call-in’ the Liberal Democrat group has now convinced the council's Chief Legal Officer that the decision to close the camp must be reviewed. The Liberal Democrats cited eight reasons for this including the council's failure under the lease. This procedure has only been used once since 2001.
This means the decision must be reviewed by the Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee within the next two weeks. The Committee could decide to ask the Cabinet to change its decision.
Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst (Central Watford and Oxhey) said "The decision was so disgraceful, with the full implications not being considered it absolutely must be revisited. We spent almost two hours at the Resources Panel last week, much of it was in private and we still could not get to the bottom of what went wrong and why.
"I was horrified to find out that senior councillors and officers knew about the lease problems as long ago as January 2016 but had not brought this to the attention of others until November this year. And rather than get the camp on a firm footing and make it usable for all children they then just wanted to close it! This will potentially deprive tens of thousands of children of valuable outdoor education over the next 15 years."
Liberal Democrat Councillor Steve Jarvis (Royston West & Rural) said. "The Council has failed to consider any option to maintain the lease to keep the camp open until the freeholders of the site (GHL) secured an alternative and clearly better run long-term outdoor use for young people. That is totally shameful and it is what they should have been doing for the last 18 months."