Emotional council meeting sees deal struck for fresh Beehive talks

PUBLISHED: 22:57 14 October 2019 | UPDATED: 10:02 15 October 2019

Honiton Town Council had the largest public attendance so far this year for tonight's meeting. Picture: Callum Lawton

Honiton Town Council had the largest public attendance so far this year for tonight's meeting. Picture: Callum Lawton

Archant

A long-running dispute surrounding Honiton's community centre could finally be resolved after an agreement was struck to hold a meeting this week.

The Honiton Beehive. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref mhh 2240-34-14AWThe Honiton Beehive. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref mhh 2240-34-14AW

Honiton Town Council and Honiton Community Complex, the charity behind the Dowell Street-based building, will talk behind closed doors on Thursday.

The meeting was agreed ad-hoc at an emotionally charged council meeting held this evening (October 14).

More than 100 residents, largely made up of supporters of The Beehive, crammed into the community centre's auditorium to hear, and contribute towards, a debate surrounding a long-running dispute between Honiton Community Complex and Honiton Town Council.

The meeting, which heard impassioned statements from community members and councillors alike, ended on an optimistic note after Mark Tredwin, town council clerk, and Barry Simmonds, chairman of Honiton Community Complex, agreed to meet later this week.

David Perkins, a current director of The Beehive and former town councillor, also spoke and pledged to step down if a resolution is agreed between the two parties.

Mr Perkins, who received a standing ovation from sections of the crowd, said: "There are difficult decisions for the council to make, but these can be overcome if we face these problems together.

(L-R) Honiton Community Complex director David Perkins, trustee Serena Sexton, and charity chairman Barry Simmonds. Picture: Callum Lawton(L-R) Honiton Community Complex director David Perkins, trustee Serena Sexton, and charity chairman Barry Simmonds. Picture: Callum Lawton

"To make it easier for the council and the charity to work in partnership, I will step aside as a trustee as soon as the current crisis is resolved, and certainly by the end of this year.

"I thank all of you for the support you have given me in helping me get this enterprise off the ground."

Honiton Town Council and Honiton Community Complex have been butting heads for more than two and a half years over an alleged £40,000 bill owed to the charity by the authority.

The charity says the money is owed according to the 10-year Beehive lease, signed in 2015.

The council said the dispute stems from what the costs exactly are.

Crunch talks were supposed to be held last week, but failed to materialise in the latest stumbling block for the ongoing saga.

The Beehive. Ref mhh 02 19TI 8122. Picture: Terry IfeThe Beehive. Ref mhh 02 19TI 8122. Picture: Terry Ife

Last week, the council said Honiton Community Complex, which is in possession of the lease at the Beehive, is 'potentially considering entering into administration'.

This was rejected by Mr Perkins.

At tonight's meeting, various councillors spoke in support of The Beehive and backed the talks to provide a result.

Cllr Terry Darrant said: "From what I have been told from our own advisors is this isn't just our fault - this is on both sides that things need to be brought forward.

"I hope on Thursday there is a resolution brought forward."

Deputy mayor Cllr Duncan Sheridan-Shaw, who is the council's representative as a charity director, said he has had 'countless conversations' with residents over the issue.

The Honiton Beehive. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref mhh 2258-34-14AWThe Honiton Beehive. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref mhh 2258-34-14AW

He said: "We talked about lines in the sand - if we can make them granite, I will be happy because sand ebbs and flows… every mountain is un-climbable until someone climbs it.

"This is a mountain that we can climb and we will get over and we will put our flag on the top."

Former mayor Cllr Caroline Kolek told the meeting she had 'every confidence' that a resolution will be thrashed out at Thursday's meeting.

Before the council debated the issue, several members of the public made emotional statements on how The Beehive, and its users, is being affected.

Playwright John Gregory, who staged a show at The Beehive in May, said he could not believe what is happening with the centre.

He said: "This must not become a battle about egos.

The Honiton Beehive. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref mhh 2249-34-14AWThe Honiton Beehive. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref mhh 2249-34-14AW

"It is about doing our best, all of us, to save The Beehive in the wonderful form it has become known to us.

"Therefore, I ask you to respect the will of the people. Work together, town council and Beehive personnel.

"Forget past arguments and do it quickly."

Mr Gregory said taxpayer money should not be wasted on lawyers and the issue should be 'sorted like grown-ups'.

Cllr John Zarczynski, Honiton's mayor, told the meeting there seems to be a perception he is against The Beehive and is hanging on to residents' money.

He said: "When I joined the council in 2011, I was very instrumental in pushing to get council to resolve to have this place built."

The Beehive Centre during its construction. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref mhh 1452-36-13AWThe Beehive Centre during its construction. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref mhh 1452-36-13AW

Cllr Zarczynski said he personally took a lot of verbal abuse from residents who did not want to see The Beehive built.

He told residents he still believes Honiton deserves The Beehive, and praised the volunteers and staff for the 'fantastic job' they do.

He said the issue purely boils down to money.

Check out the Midweek Herald's website later this week for a report on the outcome of Thursday's meeting.

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