Stormy scenes with Pier Field decision on ice

Battlefield ... Pier Field, Skegness.
Battlefield ... Pier Field, Skegness.

A decision on the future of the Pier Field in Skegness was dramatically put on hold amid stormy scenes at a full meeting of East Lindsey District Council.

At one point during proceedings, there were cries of ‘farce’ from the public gallery, and Coun Phil Kemp said what they had witnessed was a ‘shambles’ which did no credit to the authority or its leadership.

“Someone needs to be reprimanded,” he urged.

Similar disgust was sounded by former council leader Jeremy Webb. “I smell a rat,” he declared. “This looks like a bear trap. I feel I am being ambushed.”

Members had been recommended to sell off the field (campaigners say for an estimated £540,000) to accommodate an 80-bed Premier Inn and KFC restaurant at the meeting, held on Wednesday.

But they came to the conclusion during the debate that the information supplied in the agenda fell short of what was required to enable them to reach a fair decision - one that would recognise the interests of community groups as well as the district council’s imperative to raise cash by offloading land and assets.

They also felt there had not been adequate consultations with Skegness residents over potential alternative uses for the field.

“There’s something very wrong here,” said Coun Julia Pears. “We need to be given the full information.”

Agreement came from Coun Terry Aldridge who declared: “Not for the first time, I fear this is another example of the council being misled by the leadership.”

In a presentation on behalf of the Save Our Foreshore group, barrister Matthew Boyden warned that a flawed decision by the council would prompt an immediate application to a high court judge for a judicial review.

Following his alert, members resolved - on a majority vote - to go into secret session while they took confidential legal advice from council monitoring officer Michelle Sacks.

When the meeting was subsequently re-opened to the press and public, it was agreed that no decision on the proposed sell-off should be made pending an extraordinary meeting of the council which will take place at 6.30pm on Monday.

Members will then consider both a revised report and a petition for the field to be nominated an ‘asset of community value’ - a move that, if approved, may oblige the developers representing Premier’s owners, Whitbread, to seek an alternative site in Skegness for the proposed hotel.

Coun John Byford insisted that what Skegness needed was a new visitor attraction on the site - not another hotel.

“Since I came to the town, we have lost the Festival Pavilion and our seafront chalets,” he said. “The inn on the park is in disrepair and our swimming pool has shrivelled from the size it once was.

“Premier Inns are all over the country. Surely, we need to encourage the sort of attraction that demonstrates that Skegness can offer something special.”

The UKIP representative went on to lament that the council no longer had a senior officer banging the drum for all-year tourism in the town.

Four Skegness Conservatives - Couns Sid Dennis, Dick Edginton, Ken Milner and Steve O’Dare - all stayed tight-lipped during the debate.

The town’s former Labour Coun Mark Anderson surprised colleagues by leaving the meeting in advance of the discussion on the matter.

Excusing himself, he said: “It’s my birthday - my family, including grandchildren, have laid on a celebration party for me.”