Transcript of Public Q and A session during Malvern Hills Conservators’ Board Meeting, 12th November 2009.
Preamble: From the Conservators Website:
“We welcome the public to the next meeting of the Board to be held at Priory Lodge Hall, Avenue Road, Malvern at 7 pm on Thursday 12th November 2009 for members to hear your concerns for the Cafe and Octagon Room. If you would like to ask a question please let us have this in writing before midday on Tuesday 10th November so that a full answer can be given at the meeting.”
Steve Price: Is there a business plan for the Cafe proposals and can we see it please?
Chair: Well, when the legal outcome is more certain the Malvern Hills Conservators will make their plans available to the public. We’ve commissioned a study that will bring ideas for the buildings for public consultation and we’re also undertaking a carbon energy audit for the building. Before any manager is appointed as part of the interview process the applicants will have to produce a business plan.
Steve Price: If the cafe makes a loss, which is possible, how will it be paid for?
Chair: When the business plan is prepared, the potential will become very much clearer. It won’t be intended for it to make a loss, and performance will be continuously monitored.
Steve Price: Do the conservators think it will be a good use of local taxpayers money if they have to end up supporting the cafe?
Chair: The conservators have to look at the long term benefits of their actions and a fresh approach to the management of St Ann’s Well will confer both benefits to the town as well as the visitors to the hills. St Ann’s Well has the potential to be a much greater asset to the community.
Steve Price: Can we see the results of any public consultation and, if there was no public consultation, who came up with the idea?
Chair: Because of the nature of the legal process we’re not able to enter into consultation on the future of St Ann’s Well until we have an outcome, and then it will all be… revealed.
Steve Price: Will the public objection to the removal of the current proprietor have any effect on the Conservators’ plans?
Chair: This has been answered later in a question by Jackie Carey, so can I refer you to that.
Peter McNally: The Conservators’ website refers to the difference between visitors’ needs and commercial needs. Can you tell me what the distinction is, please?
Chair: Well, we recognise that to offer a service to all the community may require a different approach than the present approach. We intend to work with the community and (inaudible) to see how we can maximise the potential of the cafe and yet to widen its appeal.
Ruth McNally: How can you justify turning out the present tenant from both his job and his home when no funding for the changes has been secured: presumably, with no funding there can be no changes?
Chair: The capital funds. We have a capital fund that can be used to fund capital improvements and grants can be applied for when actual plans have been prepared – but not before. And I will point out that capital funds – just to make it quite clear to everybody – capital funds are monies that have been obtained from developments such as the Townsend Way development in the 1990s, and wayleaves from other new developments. The money obtained this way can only be used for capital expenditure such as St Ann’s Well.
M.G. Taylor: Can the Conservators explain why there was no mention of The Well in last weeks’ 12-page Gazette Supplement, given its importance to Malvern’s heritage and their future plans?
Chair: We felt it was not appropriate as actual plans have not yet been prepared. It was just a celebration of 125 years.
M.G. Taylor: Do any plans for St Ann’s Well exist and if so, when were they initially proposed and who specifically proposed them?
Chair: The Conservators DO have an outline of facts and possibilities, but no firm plans have been produced.
M.G. Taylor: If there are plans; what are they exactly, how long have detailed plans existed, what are the costings and why have the public not been consulted?
Chair: That’s the same answer, really.
M.G. Taylor: If there are no specific plans, why does Beverley Nielson refer to ‘exciting plans’ in her letter to the Gazette: ‘A Conservators View’?
Chair: Beverley Nielsen is on the St Ann’s Well working party that is looking into options and keeping up to date on the responses from those who have written in. The exciting plans are as yet, in the form of ideas.
M.G. Taylor: Is tourism within the remit of the Conservators’ mandate?
Chair: The acts do recognise suitable provision to meet the convenience and requirements of the public in light of present-day circumstances. In the forward strategy the conservators agreed to work in partnership with the town and for the benefits of Malvern and this is obviously one way of doing it.
M.G. Taylor: Where is this defined in the Malvern Hills Acts and why did Mr Rowat say that tourism is NOT in the Conservator’s mandate during the Access & Information Committee meeting of 31/8/2006. Can you clarify the contradiction between these two positions.
Chair: The director did indeed say tourism was not a remit, however that did not mean that initiatives such as the walking festival and other related initiatives could not be supported. The Malvern Hills receive over 1 million visits per year, and our duty is to keep the land as open space and manage and provide for the visitors that come to enjoy the hills.
M.G. Taylor: Do the Conservators plan to close the Well during any development and for how long?
Chair: During any alterations to the building the facilities to the public, insofar as health and safety would allow, would remain open. Until we have the final plans we can’t say, but our intention is that it will not be closed.
M.G. Taylor: How much have the Conservators calculated that the proposed project will cost the tax payer? What is the budget exactly (with or without grant funding)?
Chair: The budget has not been finalised until the extent of the work is known. There will be no increase in levy to fund the project. The money will come from capital funds and from grants.
M.G. Taylor: The Board’s minutes show that difficulties in obtaining funding and permissions for the restoration work to St Ann’s gardens led to the project taking 6 years and as a consequence a cost overrun of £22k occurred. What assurance can the Conservators give that this will not happen again with the proposed development?
Chair: The heritage lottery project was under the direction of the AONB partnership. Many HLF projects do overrun their time. And again, there is no extra cost to the levy payer, except a very limited amount for garden maintenance, which came out of existing budgets.
M.G. Taylor: In detail, how is it proposed to provide disabled access to the Octagon Room?
Chair: Preliminary discussions have taken place with the Conservation Officer of Malvern Hills District Council and when detailed plans are brought forward then we’re confident that together a solution will be found.
M.G. Taylor: That doesn’t answer my question. I would like to make that objection.
M.G. Taylor: Why is it necessary to remove Mr Redman and destroy his business in order to fulfil the plans – they don’t seem to exist – but why is it necessary to remove Mr Redman and destroy his business?
Chair: I am sorry to say that because of legal procedure we cannot discuss this at this time. It could all come clear in time.
John Redman: There is no legal case at the moment. There is no legal case that you can interfere with.
Chair: This isn’t a matter for confidentiality, it is the advice from our solicitor that it would / could be prejudicial.
M.G. Taylor: What are the breaches of the lease conditions that Mr Redman has supposedly committed (given that he waives his right to confidentiality to allow this question to be answered)?
Chair: This is really advice from the solicitor, that we are not able to say this at this stage. This will become into the public domain eventually. He will find out with his solicitor.
M.G. Taylor: Which legislation gives the Conservators the right to run a café? – please quote the relevant text(s) from the legislation.
Chair: We’ll reply to that one in Mr Redman’s question in a moment.
M.G. Taylor: In light of the public outcry, the petition and the Facebook group; are the Conservators prepared to reach a compromise regarding their plans for the Well and enter into discussions with Mr Redman, so that they can work together with him to improve facilities for all? Can the Conservators explain their public policy regarding this matter?
Chair: The Conservators’ policy is quite clear: they are proceeding with legal process to terminate the tenancy.
M.G. Taylor: I’m sorry, that doesn’t answer the question.
Chair: Well, I’m sorry, it’s the best answer I can give you at this moment.
M.G. Taylor: Why have the Conservators publicly criticised Mr Redman’s opening hours, when he opens longer hours than required by the lease?
Chair: We are saying that the cafe should be available around the visitors needs.
M.G. Taylor: Sorry, I asked a specific question. That does not relate to the question I’ve just asked you.
Chair: Well we are saying it doesn’t open – always – around visitors’ needs. That’s our answer.
M.G. Taylor: But Mr Redman does open around visitors needs. That’s why he opens longer hours. I’m asking why do the conservators publicly criticise Mr Redman’s opening hours if he opens longer than he is required to.
Chair: I’m afraid we have to say that the cafe should be available around visitors needs, and these will all be brought very clear, I’m sure Mr Redman knows the answers.
M.G. Taylor: I’m sure he doesn’t. (General laughter)
John Redman: Your own survey says my hours are correct.
M.G. Taylor: (to MHC) you paid for it. We paid for it, I should say.
Chair: Can you get on with the questions.
M.G. Taylor: I would like to have some responses that actually relate to the questions.
M.G. Taylor: How many ecologists work for the Conservators?
Chair: The director has a Biology degree as well as 34 years in countryside management. The full-time conservation officer has also had 10 years experience working for wildlife trusts and the conservation adviser ADAS. All staff working in the fields have at least 2 NVQ level 2 competencies and the staff are advised by the government bodies such as National England, English Heritage, in addition to panels of wildlife specialists who advise on wildlife.
M.G. Taylor: I was just asking how many ECOLOGISTS work for the Conservators. Not other people with other skills. I’m talking about Ecologists.
Chair: You have the answer: it is there.
M.G. Taylor: Then it’s none.
M.G. Taylor: Do the Conservators consider that the type of food served in a cafe lies within their mandate? If so, could they disclose the relevant legislation?
Chair: The message we are getting is that visitors to the cafe want simple, locally-sourced wholesome food of both vegetarian and other choices. In letting the contract for a manager, this will form the basis of all future provisions.
M.G. Taylor: Again, I’d like to make an objection. That simply does not answer the question that was posed.
M.G. Taylor: Why don’t the Conservators fit electronic time locks and an external security camera on the toilets, like those at the Wyche?
Chair: We’re happy to look at this. The conservators actually took on the refurbishment of all three toilets on the hills using their capital fund again and they have excellent reports on their improvement so we will look into this.
M.G. Taylor: Why has there been no attempt to discuss any aspect of the plans directly with Mr Redman to date, given the amount of support in the community for him and his many years of experience managing the Well?.
Chair: I’m sorry but we just can’t go into issues surrounding the tenant at this time. It will be dealt with through solicitors.
M.G. Taylor: Given that the Conservator’s commissioned a report into the provision of transport for the elderly and disabled to the Well in 2006, which stated that it is impractical on safety grounds, why has Beverly Nielson stated in her letter that transport will be provided next month? Please provide a copy of the original report as it was commissioned.
Chair: The copy of the report that you refer to was for what was referred to as a Dotto Train, which consists of a tractor cab and several carriages. The result of the risk assessment indicated that certain procedures needed to be in place for the venture to be undertaken. We are looking into more practical types of vehicle which doesn’t need such a large turning circle to take people from the town to St Ann’s Well. When we have a proposal that actually works and fits the purpose, then we’ll bring it along to the public domain.
M.G. Taylor: We want a copy of the report that our rates paid for, which you commissioned in 2006. Why can’t we see that?
Chair: There’s no reason at all why you can’t see it.
M.G. Taylor: If you could let us have a copy we’d appreciate it.
Chair: Everything we have is available to the public.
M.G. Taylor: Good. Could we have the Full Accounts too, then, please?
M.G. Taylor: According to the 1999-2000 Visitor Survey prepared by the Heart of England Tourist Board for the Malvern Hills AONB Joint Advisory Committee, over 3 quarters (78%) of the respondents stated they had no intention of using any information whilst staying in the AONB. For those using information, the majority (12%) used the Tourist Information Centre. Can the Conservators produce evidence to support that there is a requirement for a visitor centre at St Ann’s Well?
Chair: The Conservators have floated the idea of using the Octagon Room, which is a public building and it should be open to the public. What the public state it’s to be used for can be open to public consultation. The conservators favour information being available on geology, biology of the hills and this may encourage local schools to appreciate and enjoy the hills. There is no intention to provide an additional Tourist Information Centre.
M.G. Taylor: No, visitors centre – as it says on your website, visitors centre – not Tourist Information Centre. That was the question. Can the Conservators produce evidence to support that there is a requirement for a visitors centre at St Ann’s Well? …I presume no…Again, I object because you are not answering the question…
M.G. Taylor: As a registered charity and levy charging authority, do the Conservators agree that it is most appropriate that they invest their resources and energy on their core duties rather than fulfilling the aims and objectives of outside bodies when those aims are beyond the conservators remit?
Chair: The primary purpose for the Malvern Hills Conservators will always be to manage the hills. However, that does not preclude, when the opportunity exists, to provide and invest in and realise the full potential of schemes such as St Ann’s Well.
M.G. Taylor: I’m sorry, but we are talking about the objectives of outside bodies. That doesn’t seem to answer the question again.
Chair: Well, I ‘m sorry but that is the best answer you’ll get tonight… and now Mr Redman’s question. Mr Redman?
John Redman: I would like to have my representative Mr Watson read it out if I could please.
Chair: Yes, certainly
John Redman: Is Mr Watson here? The conservator who’s for my part ? I think you’re here…
Conservator (Priory Ward): I’m here. I’m not Mr Watson. Are you referring to me?
John Redman: Can you read my question please – as my representative…
Conservator (Priory Ward): I haven’t got your question
John Redman: I’m sure they can provide you with a copy of it. You are my representative after all. And you’re supposed to…
Conservator (Priory Ward): How am I your representative?
John Redman: Are you not? Who IS in charge of Priory Ward, sorry? Who IS the representative for Priory Ward?
Conservator (Priory Ward): I’m in the Priory Ward
John Redman: And that’s my ward, and you are my representative in terms of the Conservators, and I’d like you to read out the question for me please.
A Conservator: (Angrily) Had the gentleman had the courtesy to consult his representative..!!! All these silly questions to me should be coming to our selected members. Not wasting the board’s time! That’s what we’re there for. Why don’t you come and see us? You haven’t even had the courtesy to tell him that you want him to read them out! That’s ridiculous!
John Redman: I tried to but he refused to speak to me.
Chair: Mr Redman, it is your question.
John Redman: Can you read it out for me please?
Chair: Alright: ‘In my view it is very unclear that the Conservators have any express powers to operate a cafe at St Ann’s Well. Please specify what legislative provision gives the Conservators the power to run a cafe on their land.’
Chair: Both the 1930 and the 1995 Malvern Hills Acts recognise the need for Conservators to make provision for persons visiting the hills for recreation and enjoyment. There is nothing in the Act that prevents the Conservators from running the cafe. They did employ a manager at St Ann’s Well in the 1960s and there is therefore a precedent for what is being considered. With regard to Malvern Hills Conservators being a registered charity, we have received advice and there does not appear to be any bar from Malvern Hills Conservators trading from St Ann’s Well.
Chair: Is Jackie Carey present? No? Then I’ll read her question:
Jackie Carey: On reading the comments people have left when signing the online
petition, the many letters to the Malvern Gazette (both published in the paper and on their website) and comments on the Facebook Group, it is obvious that there is a great deal of public appreciation and support for John Redman and his style of managing the St Ann’s Well Cafe. Thousands of people – Malvern Residents and visitors alike – have indicated that they wish the Cafe to stay the way it is. Do the Conservators intend to address these people’s wishes in their plans for the cafe’s future?
Chair: We will take the petition into consideration and balance the views from the public who have an interest in St Ann’s Well. Also, from comments on the petition website it appears that some people mistakenly think the intention is to close the cafe completely. This is not so.
Lenni Sykes (via a friend): With regard to your plans for the Octagon Room, I believe you wish to make this an area for displaying local information to the public. Firstly, as others have mentioned, for it to serve this purpose for everyone it would need to be accessible to the disabled. I’ve seen mention of a shuttle bus service being provided to bring disabled people up the hill, but was this not considered previously and abandoned because of concerns about how dangerous the paths are to navigate. At the very least, as an environmental scientist, I am concerned about the effect on the fragile tracks that the increased volume of traffic would entail and the likelihood of further erosion to the paths. Is it not your duty as conservators to keep wheeled vehicles off the hills, not add more?
Chair: I think this question has already actually been answered, as far as the vehicles are concerned. We are looking at some form of vehicle and there’s a whole series of questions there – and as far as the Octagon Room is concerned for disabled access, we are looking into this, we are actively looking into if this can be used for disabled access.
Lenni’s friend: But if you don’t get agreement to all these sorts of things….
Chair: We can’t get into debate about this at this moment, but we think that we, expect that we will find this (inaudible)
Lenni’s friend: But you’ve given the tenant notice on the understanding that your plans…
Chair: I’m afraid that we can’t get into debates on this. Do you have any more questions? Are they direct questions or is it a statement?
Lenni’s friend: They are the questions that are put into this letter.
Chair: Yes but they tended to put in a lot of suppositions, I’m afraid.
Member of Public: I heard a specific question about the remit of the Conservators for providing additional traffic or restricting additional traffic. Can you answer that point, please, directly?
Chair: You’re starting to put extra questions in now.
Member of Public: I heard the question just now, and I’m re-tabling it.
Lenni’s friend: The question was: Is it not the remit of the Conservators to keep wheeled vehicles off the hills, not add more?
Chair: As far as invalid vehicles are concerned, invalid vehicles have got special concessions on the hills.
Another Member of Public: You said it was for families and young children. You should look at your own website.
Chair: We will see. It depends entirely on the sort of vehicle. But we’re not going to get into discussion on this.
Third Member of Public: Why weren’t we all just given a piece of paper when we came in with the questions and answers? Why is there no interaction for people to discuss what the feedback is? You’re just making statements. What’s the point of it?
M.G. Taylor: Statements that don’t answer questions.
Third Member of Public: There’s no interaction.
Lenni’s friend: Can I ask one of the questions that hasn’t been asked – so far?
Lenni’s friend: If you’re broadening the menu – environmental health has previously said that the kitchen… (interrupted)
Chair: This it something that – this is a question that goes on and on and on, I know and finishes up with litter on the hills. This particular fact about having… having… meat and suchlike in the cafe – this is something which we will consider when the time comes. We’ll get the experts to answer the question.
Yet another Member of Public: Can I just ask please – You’re suggesting that this isn’t the time, the time for answers…
Chair: At this moment
Yet another Member of Public: When is that moment going to come?
Chair: This will all become clear in the future.
Yet another Member of Public: Can you tell us when that’s going to be?
M.G. Taylor: When are you going to speak to us, to the people who pay for you? When are you going to speak to us about your plans?
Chair: We’ve given you the answers and if you have any further questions if you put the questions into the office they will be answered.
M.G. Taylor: But you don’t answer the questions!
(…walkout begins amongst a general background of complaints…)
Member of the Public: (Shouts) Does anybody want to make any declarations of interest?
Another Member of the Public: (Shouts) Yes – you should declare your interests! You know who you are!