Chris and Derek Ford, who run the kiosk in the children’s playground at The Level, face the bleak prospect of losing their business at the end of this month. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund with its prescriptive conditions and Land Use Consultancy’s free market plans, this couple, who have for over forty years served generations of children and their parents with light refreshments and ice creams, will now find themselves summarily without their livelihood. Not only have the couple served the playground users their snacks and teas, but they’ve also been a constant, vigilant presence there, a port of call for kids in distress, watchful eyes ready to summon help in emergencies long before the advent of the ubiquitous mobile phone.
So why lay the blame on the HLF and LUC? Because while the HLF may be ready to lash out £millions of Lottery Lucre, they also insist on having scores of boxes ticked, most of them of the politically correct kind, but they also want to know how a council is going to afford the upkeep of its new creation for the next 10 years. Fair enough you might think, councils, well Brighton and Hove City Council anyway, are notorious for leaving their properties (in this case The Level) to fall slowly into wrack and ruin (look at the present poor state of The Level) and then looking around for some (lottery) money to restore at vast expense what could’ve been maintained at a fraction of the cost. This is where LUC, who specialise in procuring HLF funding, have come up with a fine wheeze. They get their mates, the architects Knox Bhavan to knock out yet another version of their stock design for a large, modern, “eco” café and this plan (and job-for-the-boys) is then sold to the council as being a great way to pay for certain running costs associated with the new creation, for example, the café will be responsible for the upkeep of the public toilets etc. The result is that The Level gets yet another café in an area already well-served by eateries (see one objection to Planning Application – BH2011/02555 – the new Level café) and the Fords lose their livelihood!
When the Parks Project Team began its series of “The Level Workshops”, the first one was held on 20 November 2010 and it was clear then that Sasha Bhavan had already designed a café for the project. It was only after being harried by Group 1 of the workshopees that she half-heartedly conceded that there didn’t necessarily have to be a café – if people wanted a new kiosk, well that was always a possibility…she supposed. Nothing was set in stone yet – like heck! The fundamentals were all in place, the consultation was taking place, and would continue to take place, until these plans were endorsed by “the public”. Thus, from the very start of the consultation process, we were to have a new 52-seater café. So what about the kiosk and its occupants, how were they consulted / treated? Answer: they weren’t / with disdain. At no stage were they consulted as a business that was going to be directly effected by the new plans, let alone one that was to be wiped off the face of The Level. They were summoned to the PPT HQ at Hollingbury and asked what compensation they wanted for the loss of their business – and that was the one and only meeting Chris and Derek Ford had from anyone connected with the project. The PPT knew it could just send them a Section 25 form informing them their lease was terminated and that would be the end of the matter – so why talk to them.
And so to the actions of the councillors – all of them unfortunately Green, so no political capital to be gained by anyone there. Their behaviour was, if anything, even more reprehensible. One would have expected the local councillors to have known of the Fords’ plight, and been concerned about how they were going to cope with the situation. But nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the Greens being intimately involved from Day One with the Lottery Bid with both Pete “The People Have Spoken” West and Ian “The Gravy Train” Davey actively monitoring (some might say “spying on”) the whole process, attending Friends of The Level meetings, public workshops etc., and putting on the West ‘n’ Davey Show, they never met with the Fords. These two local councillors were involved in the decision-making process from the very start and by the end were in total control. Yet every single councillor ignored the Fords’ plight, presumably because none of them had the bottle or front to go and discuss with them their preordained and impending doom.