Political row sparked by community centre's billboard

Posted On 08 Feb 2010 at 9:33 am

A community centre has hit out at Conservative councillors for stopping them selling advertising space on its building, saying the decision was politically motivated.

The advert, which was displayed during the Labour Conference in Brighton last September, featured an image of Gordon Brown fashioned out of newspaper clippings.

Community Base in Queen’s Road has been allowed to sell space on its north wall since 2004, and says it relies on this income to help provide a space for 26 charities and community groups.

But when its latest application was heard by Brighton and Hove City Council’s planning committee last Wednesday, it says Tory councillors repeatedly referred to a Green Party ad displayed there before voting together to refuse permission.

In a statement, Community Base director Colin Chalmers, said:  “This was a nasty, politically motivated decision by Conservative councillors that will cause real, and entirely unnecessary, financial hardship to Community Base and the other charities and community groups in our building.

“Ironically we were recently approached about taking an advert for the Conservative’s Brighton conference later this month, something we’d obviously have been happy to do.

He added: “This was a really unfair decision and we’re not going to take it lying down.” Community Base is now planning an appeal and a petition.

Planning officers had recommended the application be refused, but of the 24 letters received commenting on the scheme, 24 were in support and none against.

Green councillor Pete West, who spoke in support of the application at the planning committee said: “Planning officers have consistently offered unconvincing arguments that banner advertising is inappropriate in this location on conservation grounds, but in the past the planning committee has taken the reasonable view that Community Base should be allowed to display advertising, in order to provide the organisation with much-needed revenue, and to brighten up what is quite frankly a rather ugly and monolithic concrete edifice.

“Now many community and voluntary groups which rely on Community Base for a wide range of services will be faced with financial hardship, in a fiscal climate which has already seen swingeing cuts to funding for the sector.”

During the debate, a legal officer had to intervene and remind officers they could not base their decision on what type of advert might be displayed there.

However the chairwoman of the committee , Tory councillor Lynda Hyde, said the Green Party advert had only been mentioned once.

She said: “It was mentioned at the time when a member asked what sort of advert will be placed there.  They had recalled that an advertisement  for the Green Party had been there in the past and it was not said in a detrimental context.  There were concerns that an advertisement may be for alcohol.

“These questions were asked so that Members would be in a position to make a judgment on the visual impact because the site is so large. Our group voted and agreed with the officer recommendation to refuse.”

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