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Hold New Alresford Town Council to account over the sudden closure of the ARC bar

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On the 28th March 2017, New Alresford Town Council (NATC) took the sudden and unexpected decision to close the bar facility at the Alresford Recreation Centre (ARC) in New Alresford, Hampshire. 

This decision was kept entirely secret until a few hours before the AGM, including from the staff of the ARC who have all been made redundant without prior notice.  The only reasonable explanation for this is a lack of desire to discuss this with the residents of the town.

Despite the late notice, heated exchanges took place at the AGM, but no answers were forthcoming to any of the legitimate concerns raised by the assembled residents! 

Having grown up in neighbouring Gundleton, and lived in Alresford for my entire adult life, I can safely say this is one of the most baffling decisions I have ever heard of.  The ARC facility is the envy of Hampshire.  I regularly hear it described as the best facility of its kind in the area. The council should see it as a beacon - another example of Alresford exceeding residents expectations, but they do not seem to.

The ARC has always been, and remains today, the welcoming hub of sports and recreation for the entire Alresford community.  Sporting wise it is home to the Football, Rugby, Cricket, Tennis, Pool and Dart teams.  It is also the only family-friendly, licensed premises in Alresford of its kind and is regularly used by the Jazz club, for Wedding receptions, birthday parties and other functions.  The council must all be aware that these will not be viable without a licensed bar.

The council’s decision seems to entirely disregard all of this, and as such must be backed up by a detailed explanation and hard facts.  Otherwise, we must fight to protect its place as the heart of sport and entertainment within the town.  Even if the council decision can be justified, they must reveal details of their plans for the ARC, to ensure it remains to be treasured by future generations.

A hastily posted statement on the NATC website reads:

“It is with much sadness that New Alresford Town Council is announcing with immediate effect the closure of the Alresford Recreation Centre bar, known affectionately to its users as the ‘ARC Bar facility’. The ARC bar facility has been managed by a number of groups since its inception and had suffered a number of financial failures before coming under the management of New Alresford Town Council.

New Alresford Town Council has spent considerable time evaluating the ARC Bar facility’s future and how a possible closure would impact the community; but as Local Government funding comes under further pressure, they felt unable to continue to operate the facility.”

 

Due to the lack of response so far from the NATC, we must start by analysing this statement ourselves;

Paragraph one refers to the previous history of the ARC bar before NATC management.  This is entirely irrelevant as it refers to persons and entities unknown, who are not in any way involved in the current predicament the council has placed the ARC in.

The second paragraph is more interesting as it suggests significant analysis and presumably consultation has gone into making the decision.

The community needs to know who were the parties involved in the consultation, and how long was the process?

Were any customers and users of the ARC facility or ARC bar consulted?   I cannot speak for the Football club but certainly the Rugby club, Pool and Dart teams were all completely in the dark until after the sudden closure, and are now left without a plan.  As were the jazz club, wedding bookings, party bookings etc. etc.

As accountable, democratically elected officials, the NATC must surely now publish the details of the “Impact Assessment” they claim to have carried out.  After all, their statement suggests they spent a considerable amount of time on this. 

Finally, in their press release, NATC insinuate that they cannot afford to run the ARC bar due to "Local Government funding cuts".  This standalone statement certainly does not stand up without significant supporting evidence! 

The ARC bar has apparently been profitable for the last four years.  Personally, I believe it is an invaluable facility at the heart of the town, and profitability should not be a prerequisite to it remaining open anyway – but that being said, it is profitable!

To my mind, the closure appears to be a knee-jerk response to the recently published BDO audit.  ( http://www.newalresfordtc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/BDO-Report.pdf ). 

This audit appears to criticise NATC’s control over the ARC and makes specific recommendations for remediation.  None of which include the huge over-reaction and closure!

I'm not suggesting any impropriety and appreciate being a Councillor is a thankless and difficult task.  But transparency must be a cornerstone.

All I am asking is that the NATC provide the details of the implied financial "woes", alongside details of the consultation process and subsequent impact analysis.  

Otherwise Alresford is at risk of permanently losing one of its greatest assets, along with a slice of its character and appeal.  I don’t believe any of us voted for that?

Please, sign this petition demanding NATC release the evidence to support this decision along with details of the study undertaken into the community impact of the closure.

If these details cannot be provided, then I feel we will have no choice but to assume some Councillors have acted solely in their own interests and not the interests of Alresford town, and that could never be allowed to go unchallenged.



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