The article Reforms Gathering Pace brought forth a lot of comments from residents in the area, mentioning one specific issue: restoring parks and recreation areas in New Mills to the ownership and/or the management of High Peak Borough Council.
How did we get here?
The background to this is as follows.
Up to 1974, New Mills Urban District Council was a 'full function' principal council. In its area it dealt with building council housing, roads, sewerage, gas works and so on. It was surrounded by similar councils such as Chapel-en-le-Frith Rural District Council, Glossop Borough Council and so on.
This system was streamlined in 1974. A new local authority was created by statute, High Peak Borough Council, and all the Urban and Rural district councils were abolished on 1 April 1974.
Under the Local Government Act 1972, which came into effect on that date, the assets of the vanished councils became vested in High Peak Borough Council or Derbyshire County Council.
So far as the town of
Mills was concerned all of the publicly-owned
properties, with one specific named exception, were now owned by either High
Peak Borough Council or Derbyshire County Council.
The division was determined by the local authority function of the property asset. Education facilities and libraries became vested in Derbyshire County Council; parks and council housing became vested in High Peak Borough Council and so on.
The exception was the Public Hall of New Mills. This building was funded by public subscription by the people of the town before the Urban District council existed, and owned by trustees. It is the location of the current town hall.
The 17 Properties agreed to be transferred
In March 1974 the ‘shadow’ new HPBC agreed that “Parks and Recreation Grounds” in New Mills and Sett Valley House should transfer to New Mills Town Council. This was at the request of the councillors in New Mills, who were about to lose their positions through the reorganisation.
The newly created town council was to have responsibility for maintaining the named parks and recreation grounds that would be transferred to it, and paying for their upkeep. This arrangement would take effect after both new councils came into existence the following month. A listing of the seventeen properties was compiled and agreed.
The description “
Recreation Grounds”, which was adopted and put in writing by High Peak Borough
Council in a memorandum along with the names of the seventeen sites, is
important. It is relevant both here and
for future revelations about wrongful transfers of High Peak Borough Council
Aside from the Town Hall and Sett Valley House, every one of the seventeen properties on the list of transfer is either a park, a recreation ground, or a play area.
Up to now, all is clear and above board.
Duplication of costs
Once the decision to make the property transfers was made, a large part of the efficiency and cost-saving benefits of the 1974 local government re-organisation was lost to the people of New Mills.
Instead of having one organisation handling all of the parks and recreation in the
area, with the
economies of scale and mechanisation, a new ‘Parks Department’ had to be
created in New Mills to duplicate the one at that already existed at High Peak
Borough Council. High
put it in an article in the Buxton Advertiser some years ago, “You have got
places like New Mills who still think it is 1973 and want to do everything.” Norman Garlick
How it looks to the council taxpayers
From 1974 onwards, council taxpayers in the rest of
could say ‘We've given the parks and recreation areas to New Mills town council. So at least we won’t now have the costs of
looking after them.’ High Peak
But then NMTC came back to HPBC and asked for money for mowing the grass and so on. Every year.
So by this point HPBC has lost the assets, and still pays out for their maintenance!
The most efficient system is like at Glossop and Buxton. The parks are owned by High Peak Borough Council. The maintenance is carried out by High Peak Borough Council. That’s it. It really couldn't be simpler.
Ad-hoc land transfers, with no control
Although not strictly a topic for this article, a very important issue has come to light as a result of the new discussions.
Regarding the 17 agreed properties, the necessary government transfer order under the Local Government Act 1972 was not applied for, either by the Borough or Town Council. This needed to have been completed by 1976.
When this matter was looked at in February 1990, some NMTC councillors asked for more Borough Council property to be transferred than had been authorised. Some of these HPBC assets are clearly not parks or recreation grounds. They should never have been transferred to NMTC.
The list is dated 1990. It is headed SITES NOW CLAIMED BY NEW MILLS TOWN COUNCIL and examination reveals it contains 23 properties, rather than the 17 that were agreed between the councils.
For example Derbyshire County Council’s public library asset, on Hall Street, appears to have been transferred to the town council. Derbyshire County Council is paying out substantial amounts of money in rent as a tenant, on a property where it appears to be the rightful freeholder! This public library was not on the list of 17 properties.
Another example: there are valuable garage sites owned by High Peak Borough Council that have been transferred out of its name. No money has been paid to HPBC for these assets. These sites were not on the list of 17 properties.
The subject of property transfers, and the financial losses suffered by HPBC and DCC ratepayers unless the relevant property titles are urgently rectified at Land Registry, will be the subject of a detailed future article on this website.
Current town councillors were not involved in the above ad hoc discussions which took place between unknown individuals in the 1970s and early 1990s. These disclosures may come as much of a revelation to them as to the
council taxpayers whose pockets have been raided in this long-running property
scam. High Peak
Staff at New Mills
Almost all of the costs of having a town council in New Mills arise from the fact that in 1974 it made the choice to deal with the parks etc, rather than HPBC. The annual ‘spend’ of this town council is now hundreds of thousands of pounds. Within this, it takes in around £70,000 a year from other HPBC council taxpayers (i.e. outside of New Mills). This is by way of an annual grant from the Borough Council, which is meant as a contribution to looking after the parks etc in New Mills.
The duplication of departments, and people and resources to look after the departments, is a cause of considerable cost and waste.
There may be parks staff who will be concerned for their jobs if this rationalisation and efficiency measure were to be adopted. Obviously they will be offered the same posts and grades at HPBC. The natural wastage over time - retirements, people leaving etc - in the larger organisation will in due course reduce its payroll and staffing levels back down to a normal, efficient level.
The main options are:
- HPBC to take over just the management of all the parks and recreation areas in New Mills;
- Both the management and the properties to be transferred back to HPBC.
This article is neither pro nor anti any option. This subject is now out there on the public agenda and for debate in the public space.