Controversial St James’ Playpark Changes Go Ahead After Mayor Uses Casting Vote Twice

On Tuesday night, Shaftesbury Town Council backed controversial plans for new playpark facilities at St James’ Park.

Shaftesbury’s mayor, Cllr Piers Brown, used his casting vote to break the voting deadlock – twice. However, former mayor Cllr John Lewer criticised Piers’ use of his extra vote. As a result, the new playpark will be installed and there will be no further public consultation on the plan, which will now go out to tender.

It was a heated Full Council meeting. Cllr Karen Tippins accused Cllr Virginia Edwyn-Jones, the park enhancement project lead, of ‘sabotaging’ an ‘iconic part’ of Shaftesbury with the ‘theme park’ equipment. Retired architect Bernard Ede told the Full Council meeting that he disapproved of the proposed cantilever swing, playhouses and hammock featured in the plan tabled by the Town Council’s landscape architect. “It will be prominent and probably underused,” he said.

But Cllr Edwyn-Jones challenged opponents of the Town Council’s scheme. “Over twenty years, nothing has been done. So now we try and do something to give children in this side of town decent play equipment,” she said. Virginia said two separate Town Council park consultation events had brought positive feedback.

And speaking after the meeting, mayor Brown went further, claiming that a vocal group of opponents who attended the meeting were not representative of the wider community. “The vast majority of people that came this evening have managed to engage at least once, if not three times, on a one-to-one basis with our landscape architect and the lead councillor for the project. It’s a shame that they haven’t got everything that they want. But at the end of the day, we’re trying to build a playpark for the whole community, not just a small subset of it,” said Piers.

The Town Council has taken a staged approach to St James’ Park enhancements. The replacement of the play equipment is being tackled first as an urgent item to use up grant money. The Council needs to move quickly, or it will lose this government cash.

Cllr Lewer said he would prefer to miss out on the funding rather than follow this staged approach without certainty that the money for the rest of the work, possibly costing £500,000, was secure. And John felt that work to improve the Jubilee Steps and railings should be at the front of the queue. That work was agreed upon before the pandemic.

Virginia didn’t want to lose the grant money and waste work already undertaken. “We’ve been given this fantastic opportunity. And let’s try and make the most of it,” urged Cllr Edwyn-Jones.

Cllr Karen Tippins then tabled an amendment. She wanted to adopt a master plan for the whole park before any work commenced. Tree Group member Bernard Ede has prepared a suitable document. Its suggestions included opening a park entrance from Gold Hill and removing the steep ‘ski slope’ path. Piers Brown had started the meeting by stating that work in these areas would come at a later stage.

When councillors voted on Cllr Tippins’ alternative to the official Town Council plan, four councillors supported her amendment, and four members opposed it. Cllr Brown then used his casting vote to defeat Cllr Tippins’ amendment. Piers used his chairman’s casting vote again. He broke the same deadlock when councillors were asked to back the landscape architect’s playpark plans.

The playpark changes will now go ahead. Listen to our report from the meeting.

Click below to listen.