Election fever grips council chamber

The political temperature reached boiling point on Wednesday night at the last full meeting of Hertsmere Borough Council before next week's elections.

Despite a plea from outgoing Mayor Ron Gealy, who chaired the meeting, to councillors to "refrain from making political speeches", the meeting was characterised by clashes between the leader of the opposition, Leon Reefe, and members of the ruling Conservative group.

On issues ranging from the cash crisis in the NHS, to council tax rises and the cut in the grant to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), councillors from all sides of the chamber took the opportunity to make themselves heard, knowing in some cases it would be their last chance.

There were moments of cross-party agreement, however. The council passed an amended Labour motion agreeing to make a contribution to the Furzehill Community Centre Scheme planned for Furzehill Road, Bore-hamwood, provided Hertsmere Primary Care Trust (PCT) can commit to funding the project for a minimum of three years.

But that seems unlikely in light of reports that the PCT faces a predicted end-of-year deficit of £12 million and a freeze on all new capital and revenue projects.

The centre was supposed to provide a comprehensive range of health, educational and community services for Borehamwood residents.

Council leader Neil Payne said: "In view of the severe crisis in the NHS it would be hard for the PCT to fund a project of this nature."

He added that a one-off grant would not be in the interests of council tax payers if funding could not be matched by the PCT.

Labour group leader Leon Reefe said it was right that the council make an effort to save a much-needed facility.

Elsewhere, the council agreed to look into the idea of a community theatre. £12,000 has been committed to a feasibility study for a community theatre at Hertswood school and Councillor John Graham, portfolio holder for finance, said he was consulting with interested parties and potential users of the facility.

But he added that it was not appropriate to involve politicians at this stage until the results of the study were known.

There were further skirmishes over the proposals for building a hotel on land next to the Venue in Elstree Way. Mr Reefe said: "The vast majority of people in town don't want what is planned for that site."

Mr Graham confirmed the council had entered into a 125-year lease agreement with Sunharvest Properties for the site. He said: "A leading brand of hotel would be a huge endorsement for the future of this town and a great compliment to Borehamwood."

More details of the plans will be revealed at a planning meeting next month.

There were lively exchanges over this year's budget, especially the rise in council tax and the cut in funding to the CAB. Conservatives accused the Labour group of making up policies on the hoof in order to get votes' while Labour labelled the cut in CAB funding pathetic'.

However, councillors from all sides paid tribute to retiring councillors Len Silverstone, Nigel Gilmore, Zita Hobbs and veteran Borehamwood councillor Joe Goldberg, who end their terms in office next week.

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