THE STORY SO FAR

Five years of pain. . .

The Scouts in Colney Heath have been trying for a number of years to renew the lease on the land their Scout HQ was built on over 40 years ago. The Scouts and Guides raised all the money to build the HQ in the 1970s and have run the Scout Group for over 40 years at no cost or liability to the Parish Council. The land in Roestock Park is sublet to the Parish Council by St Albans District Council with one of the conditions being that the land must be used for community purposes.

Over the last five years there have been long, painful and protracted discussions and negotiations based around the granting of a new lease and in particular a focus on the condition of the Scout HQ. Five years on and there has been no progress and since December 2019 the Scout HQ has laid empty and unused.

Timeline of events

In August 2021 the Scout Group launched a proactive, sustained and high profile campaign to inform residents of Colney Heath Parish of the injustice that is being carried out in their name. The Scouts are calling on all local residents of the Parish and wider members of the Public to make their voice heard and to lobby the Councillors who are there to serve them. 

At every turn the Parish Council have been obstructive, difficult and when provided with the information requested choose to either ignore it, dismiss it or ask for yet more. There is a constant changing of the goalposts. Since March 2021 there has been absolutely no progress on the draft heads of terms agreement issued by the Parish Council. The Trustees of the Scout Group have been left with no other option but to now launch a public and sustained campaign to make the public aware of the injustice that is being played out in their name.

The Council present an architects drawing to the Parish Council meeting on 22nd July. Despite saying the Scouts would be fully involved and consulted on any plans, no views whatsoever were sought from the Scout Group and no formal offers of use that the Scouts would require have been made. The drawing was cited as a ‘feasibility study’ which clearly it was not. 

No feasibility study has been undertaken as to the need for a ‘new community building’. No business case has been prepared. No one has been consulted within the community. 

In February 2021 the Parish Council issued a proposed draft Heads of Terms agreement outlining headline conditions for a 20 year lease. The Council advised the Scouts to take independent legal advice which they did at a cost of £900. In June 2021 the Council said the draft heads of terms were no longer valid and they were investigating the demolition of the Scout HQ.

The Parish Council refuse to respond or enter into meaningful negotiation on the heads of terms they drafted and provided to the Scouts. Instead they voted to conduct a ‘feasibility study’ into demolishing the building and building a new, different type of community building at significant cost to the residents of Colney Heath Parish.

Given the evidence to date and the findings of the survey commissioned by the parish council the Scouts do not believe this is a necessary or desirable option for the local community. 

In February 2021 the Parish Council finally (hoorah!) issued a draft heads of terms for a proposed 20 year lease agreement. They advised the Scouts to take independent legal advice on the Heads of terms which they did (at a cost of £900 to the Scout Group). 

On the 7th March a full response was provided to the Parish Council for consideration and further negotiation.

In November 2020 the Council then asked for confirmation on how repairs would be funded and for evidence of independent quotations received to undertake the works. This was all duly provided.

Thanks to the generosity of supporters and local residents over £30k has been raised to date make the necessary repairs. The Scouts are confident that further funds will be raised.

From the survey findings the Scout Group prepared a proposed schedule of works that they would commit to in order to bring the building to an acceptable level. This was presented to the Parish Council for consideration at the October 2020 meeting.

In July 2020 (and previously in 2017) the Parish Council funded a professional survey of the property which outlined the areas that needed attention. The 2020 survey stated that “with the exception of a small number of items, the majority of the recommendations herein comprise maintenance works of a non-urgent nature and could be deferred to subsequent years, subject to current and future budgetary constraints and any special requirements“.

The council keep quoting that in excess of £100k is required in order to make the HQ safe and legally compliant. This is misleading, inaccurate and not the case. It misrepresents the actual stated facts.

From the survey findings the Scout Group prepared a proposed schedule of works that they would commit to in order to bring the building to an acceptable level. This was presented to the Parish Council for consideration at the October 2020 meeting.

In February 2020 the Scouts made a clear and fair proposal to the Parish Council which was rejected.

Chaos ensues at Parish Council meeting as members of the public are told that the item on the Scout hut was being removed. Scouts eventually are allowed to (part read) a prepared statement.

To date, the Parish Council have always cited the reason for non-renewal of the lease was due to the Scout HQ falling into disrepair and in December 2019 the Parish Council evicted the Scouts from the HQ with an option for a short term licence for four months. 

The Scouts rejected this short term offer stating that they wanted to secure a long term lease along similar lines to that they have enjoyed for over 40 years. This would enable them to continue to offer Scouting to young people in the area. The Scouts have always said they were happy to make any repairs that were necessary – and are also prepared to have a regular schedule of maintenance written into a new lease. This would mean they would be legally obliged to ensure the Scout HQ was kept up to a suitable standard.

 

The Parish Council offer the Scouts a ‘sessional’ arrangement for a 2 year period at a weekly term time rent of £25. They state this offer would cover the Beaver Scout and Cub Scouts (no mention made of the Scouts Troop) and would also include an overnight Beaver sleepover and the ‘yearly’ hanging of tents for drying.

This was an unworkable and unacceptable offer which would have seriously restricted the running of the Scout Group and limit the opportunities for young people to undertake Scouting. As such the Scouts had no alternative but to reject this.

The Parish Council reject the offer made by the Scouts to take on a lease for 20 years at an annual rent of £125. They give no reason for the rejection.

The Scout Group make a formal offer to the Parish Council offering to take on a lease for 20 years at an annual rent of £125. The historic rent had been £50 per year (and lower).

It is the strong feeling of the Scouts that CHPC knew full well that the Scouts would not be able to afford to take Court action (CHPC have to date spent over £11k of Parish money on this case)

If the Scouts have money they want to spend it on young people – not lengthy and expensive court action.

As such, the Scouts were forced into a position whereby they were unable to issue court proceedings.

Parish Council oppose new lease saying that the Scouts have not complied with repairing covenants. They ask the Scouts for proposals on carrying out works.

Parish Council reject the Scouts formal Section 26 notice saying that the Scout HQ had fallen into disrepair. The Scouts have always said they are very happy to make any repairs that were necessary for legal compliance of the building.

The Scout Group formally give notice under section 26 of the Landlord and Tennant Act 1954 requesting that a new tenancy begins on 1st July 2019.

In May 2018 the Parish Council added the ‘Roestock Hut’ to their asset register taking ownership of the Scout HQ. It was added as a £558k asset – nearly half the total assets of the Parish Council!

The Parish Council propose a one year rolling contract at £15k per annum rent or use of the Scout HQ for £12.50 per hour.

The Parish Council decide to put the issue of the lease ‘on hold’.

At a Parish Council meeting it was agreed that the renewal of the lease was ‘just a case of renegotiating the terms’.

The Parish Council recognise the significant value the Scout and Guide Group play in the community and renew their lease for another 20 years – all very straight forward.

The Community of Colney Heath come together to build a Scout & Guide HQ – fully paid for and built by the Scouts and Guides at no cost to the Parish Council. Watch our film of the HQ being built.

Monthly checking of the facts

STRENGTH OF FEELING IS ON THE RISE

Strength of feeling is running high within the Scout Group, its members, families, supporters and across the wider Parish. The Scout Group now need your support. Find out more about how you can help.

This page will be updated with further information as/when it becomes available.