With 'unwelcome takeover' of Scout Hut after 42 years
5th Putney Sea Scouts say their existence is now threatened by the plans of Wandsworth Borough Council to take control of their Scout Hut. The Council want to change the terms on which the Sea Scouts have occupied the land, and to insist that they share their facilities with Wandsworth’s own ‘Better Days Project’ which is a service for adults with learning difficulties. The existing lease for the hut is to be terminated this July.
5th Putney Sea Scouts
The group was established in 1937 and has been part of the local community for over 70 years, promoting the development of young people through a programme of adventurous and challenging activities in a friendly and safe environment from their Scout Hut on Putney Embankment Tow Path at Barn Elms.
Chris Hayes, Scouter in Charge said today: “5th Putney Sea Scouts are the custodians of a safe and happy space that has been enjoyed by generations of children. We have a responsibility to them and to future generations of children to safeguard this important site.”
Formed in 1937, the 5th Putney Sea Scouts were first offered a lease to the Barn Elms embankment site in 1961, by the London County Council. A 21 year lease between the Greater London Council and the Sea Scouts for the land was signed in 1973, at a rent of £20 pa. The current lease commenced in 1994 by which time the land was owned by Hammersmith & Fulham Council. The rent was a fixed £500 pa. The land is today owned by Wandsworth Council, although it sits within the borough of Richmond upon Thames. The rent for the land has been paid to Wandsworth Council continuously, since their ownership commenced.
Wandsworth Borough Council has issued a notice to the Sea Scouts that the lease they have had in place for over 40 years will not be renewed on similar terms that have existed previously. Solicitors for the Council, Sharpe Pritchard, in their letter of 12th January 2015, say “The Council requires possession of the premises so that it can be occupied by its Learning Disability Day Service.” The existing lease will be terminated on 17 July 2015.
After much deliberation the Sea Scouts have informed Council representatives that they are likely to reject the Draft heads of Terms as they represent an unwelcome take-over of the premises, which they have already established as being too small for joint use. They call for all Putney residents, including the 1,858 who have signed an online petition, to support their campaign to prevent the Council evicting them from their home of 40 years. They have decided that they will take whatever steps are necessary, including legal action, to stay in control of their home at Barn Elms.
The Sea Scouts have been asking the Council to renew their lease for some years, but without success or even acknowledgement according to them. Discussions have taken place with Council Officials at a meeting attended by the Rt Hon Justine Greening, Putney’s local MP who supports the scouts staying on the site, saying that the premises were built as a Scout Hut are used and a Scout Hut and should continue to be used as a Scout Hut.
The scouts accuse the Council of going back on the verbal agreement to renew the lease on similar terms as before and to draw up a Licence in favour of the Better Days Project similar to that which was presented to the Sea Scouts in 2010; and have now presented the following terms for continuing use of the site, which are completely unacceptable to the sea scouts.
Representatives of the Sea Scouts make the following claims:
1) The Council will take over the Scout Hut which was built, maintained and improved by the group with the help of parents, transforming an overgrown, unused corner of the embankment at Barn Elms into the idyllic spot it is today.
2) Wandsworth Council insists that the site should also be used for an adult learning disability group (the ‘Better Days Project’) who were deprived of their own facilities when the Council closed them four years ago. The Scouts are prepared to allow limited use by the group, but not in such a way that changes their access to the Scout Hut and rights of use for its primary purpose as a scouting centre.
3) It is the Scouts belief that this unwarranted take-over and sharing scheme takes no notice of the fact the premises are too small to accommodate both parties. It has already been demonstrated during a temporary sharing arrangement with the project that the office space is too small and there is insufficient storage space.
4) The Council seems to have taken no notice that the site is also quite unsuitable for disabled adults who require specialist facilities.
5) The Council has presented ‘Draft Heads of Terms’ for a new lease which completely changes the legal basis of the Sea Scouts’ rights to occupy and use the land and premises. The 21 year lease proposed means the Council will take over the Scout Hut without recompense, grant a sub-lease to the ‘Better Days Project’, limit use of the facility, and set unacceptable terms for maintenance and upkeep.
Edna Chandler, 5th Putney Scouts Akela (Cub Scout Leader), points out: “Wandsworth has a poor track record in protecting children’s amenities. They closed the historic Battersea Park Adventure playground and leased some of it to a business, excluding poorer children. We can’t let our Scout Hut go the same way. At a time when many councils are cutting services for children it’s more important than ever that we fight to protect our children’s right to a much loved community asset.”
The Sea Scouts have suggested that the Better Days Project may use their facilities, on terms that recognise that the Scout Hut belongs to the Scouts; the terms to be agreed by way of a licence. The Scouts call upon Wandsworth Council to agree to a new lease for the land, as was discussed and agreed at the meeting in January. The meeting was attended by Justine Greening MP who expressed to Wandsworth her unconditional support that the Scouts must continue in their home of over 40 years.
5th Putney Sea Scouts now intend to vigorously campaign to ensure that Wandsworth accept that the Scout Hut building belongs to the Scouts. They call upon Wandsworth Council to offer satisfactory terms so this valuable facility, with all its history, can continue to be their home for the long term.
They ask residents who wish to support the Sea Scouts to contact the following to voice their support.
Justine Greening, MP firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Madden email@example.com
Rosemary Torrington firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Ryder email@example.com
Ravi Govindia firstname.lastname@example.org
March 13, 2015