Honiton town council meeting abandoned after tensions rise over licensing concerns

The Beehive in Honiton. Inset: Cllr John Zarczynski.

The Beehive in Honiton. Inset: Cllr John Zarczynski. - Credit: Archant

Emotions ran high at Honiton Town Council’s latest meeting – which was abandoned in less than 30 minutes amid fears that it was being held unlawfully on licensed premises.

A tense discussion, which saw one town councillor walk out and three district councillors leave before its climax, ended with members voting to pull the plug on the meeting.

Councillor John Zarczynski told councillors on Monday night (February 19) that earlier this year, they voted to have the Liz Tirard room – where its meetings are held - ‘de-licensed’.

Under the 1972 Local Government Act it is unlawful to hold meetings on licensed premises.

Cllr Zarczynski said: “I know that the town clerk [Mark Tredwin] informed Honiton Community Complex (HCC) straight after the meeting in writing regarding the council had resolved a request that this room be de-licensed.

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“Throughout the week nothing has happened since the last meeting.”

Cllr Zarczynski said Mr Tredwin’s ‘strenuous’ attempts to gain commitment from HCC for the room to be de-licensed before the meeting was unsuccessful.

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Cllr Caroline Kolek said she was concerned the council could be opening itself up to risk to a Judicial Review if it continued the meeting.

Cllr Zarczynski said: “I have good reason to believe that we may well be. I also have good reason to believe that should we pass any resolutions this evening, these resolutions could be challenged as unlawful.”

He added: “I know that some of you might find this petty… We have been put in a very difficult position here.

“If we carry on with this meeting, we could be leaving ourselves wide open to another Judicial Review.”

Cllr Kolek, who walked out of the meeting before a vote to continue it was cast, said there is a ‘constant bad press’ about the council.

She said: “Quite frankly, I am really fed up with the waste of my time with all this nonsense.

“We have asked for this room to be de-licensed. I turned up this evening for a council meeting… I give up my time freely.

“To find that nothing has been done about it and this constant backbiting – this council being put in a bad light – I am close to resigning.”

District councillors Phil Twiss, John O’Leary and Dean Barrow also walked out of the meeting before it ended, with Mr Twiss telling the meeting they ‘had better things to do’.

Mr Tredwin said between 50 to 60 per cent of other councils, including East Devon District Council, have licenses for their premises.

Cllr John Taylor said the easiest option would be to reschedule the meeting.

Halting the discussion, Cllr Zarczynski said: “Had HCC acted straight away on our request four weeks ago, we would probably not be having this conversation.”

A recorded vote to proceed with the meeting failed, with ten councillors voting against and four for.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Phil Twiss said: “If the meeting were to have gone ahead it would demonstrate we were effectively supporting unlawful (as distinct from illegal) activity by Honiton Town Council and we had no option but to leave.”

A spokesman for HCC said: “The Directors of Honiton Community Complex are perplexed by Honiton Town Council’s decision to abandon their meeting last night due to it being held on licensed premises.

“Numerous local councils hold their meetings on licensed premises including EDDC, even the Houses of Parliament has several bars on their premises.

“The 1972 Local Government Act allows council meetings to be held on licensed premises ‘where no other suitable room is available for such a meeting either free of charge or at a reasonable cost.’

“The room is provided at a discounted rate to the council, we also offered it free of charge, so what’s the problem?

“The council knew the premises would be licensed when it commissioned the building in 2013 and has held council meetings at the Beehive for the last four years.”

Honiton Town Council has rescheduled the meeting to be held at the Mackarness Hall next Tuesday at 7pm.

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