Warring council has lessons to learn
An entire parish council has been ordered to attend mediation sessions after years of bitter arguments over a playing field.
The order follows a string of abandoned council meetings, official complaints and formal investigations in Weston-on-the-Green, near Bicester.
The row began several years ago over plans to refurbish the field.
Some villagers wanted to use volunteers to reseed the football pitch, which they claimed would leave enough money to buy extra children's play equipment.
But others said under the terms of the pitch's lease, the work had to be carried out by professionals.
It led to two villagers - John Roper and Patricia Cavan - making formal allegations to the Standards Board for England.
They alleged fellow councillor Robin Stafford-Allen had breached the council's code of conduct by being rude to other councillors and misusing parish funds.
But the Standards Board threw out the claims last April, after saying there was not enough evidence to investigate.
Meanwhile, the row escalated - this time over where to put the new £30,000 children's playground.
Mr Stafford-Allen and fellow councillor Kevan Barnhill reported Mr Roper and Ms Cavan to the Standards Board, claiming they had failed to declare an interest in the playing field.
They said Mr Roper and Ms Cavan should not have been allowed to discuss the issue because they both lived close to the field in Church Lane.
The allegations were referred to Cherwell District Council, which appointed independent investigating officer Peter Cruden to look into the claims.
After a three-month investigation costing £2,500, Mr Cruden ruled Mr Roper was guilty of some breaches of the code, but cleared him of two further allegations.
He also cleared Ms Cavan of all the allegations.
But on Tuesday, Cherwell's local codes of conduct hearing panel overruled the inspector and cleared Mr Roper completely.
The panel also stated the whole parish council should seek mediation and extra training within three months.
John Scarborough, Cherwell's head of legal and democratic services, said it was the first time the hearing panel had met to consider such a report.
Reading its findings, he said: "The panel strongly recommends that both the clerk and members of the parish council receive training on the code of conduct within the next three months and that a mediation service be sought from the Oxfordshire Association of Local Councils within the next three months with a view to resolving the serious differences."
Source: Oxford Mail (09/02/2007)
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