Monday, September 07, 2009

Lawyers win when common sense loses

Writing the comment column of a newspaper can be difficult, but sometimes it's easy! Below is the first draft of the comment I put together for tomorrow's paper where I rail against the lunacy that has settled on the rural village of Breedon on the Hill. I do think that the situation we find ourselves in literally beggars belief.

It's difficult to see how anybody spending their own money could possibly take the stance being taken by either side in the argument, but, as we see so often, when you're spending somebody else's cash, it is easy to let bravado take the lead. Each side blames the other and both claim to be acting in a reasonable manner - they're both to blame and neither is acting reasonably.

However, I do wonder how quickly it would be sorted out if the two sides sat down in a room with no lawyers or mediators present!
"Sometimes decisions involving public money beggar belief. The Mercury's recent revelation that the Curve theatre in Leicester cost many millions more than had been expected was bad enough. At least at the end of the overspend the city has a theatre, an asset which undoubtedly adds to the cultural ethos of the city.

But the ludicrous argument over the use of a school hall in Breedon on the Hill could end up costing taxpayers more than £6-million just to get to where we started! The two sides in the argument have become so entrenched in their positions that all common sense seems to have disappeared out of the window. It seems a fairly straightforward issue: the villagers paid towards the cost of building a school hall 50 years ago on condition that they would be able to use it, now the council wants to change the way it is used.

The council claims the use of the hall by villagers is 'impairing' the running of the school and raises child safety issues. It offered the villagers £92,000 towards the cost of a new hall if they agreed to leave, but the villagers said no.

And then things got out of hand. The villagers took the council to court and the case was due to have been heard this month. The council's legal bill was expected to be in the region of £567,000, the campaigners' £3.2-million. That's right: almost £4-million to argue in court over a village hall that could be rebuilt for a fraction of that amount.

Now the court case has been delayed by six months and, according to the county council's legal department, the costs could now go up another £2.4-million to almost £6.2-million. Of course, the costs would only be paid by taxpayers if the council lost. The villagers have some form of no-win no-fee arrangement with their legal team.

But that's not the point. The whole exercise is a ludicrous waste of time and money. The two sides need to have their heads knocked together and then they need to step away from each other and reach agreement. The council should not be gambling with taxpayers money in this way. It should make a reasonable offer to build a new community hall and the villagers should accept it and that should be the end of the matter.

Millions have already been frittered away on this ridiculous stand-off, but it would still cost less to build new hall than to continue with the case. The politicians need to step in and sort it out - clearly the only winners at the moment are the lawyers."