A councillor at the centre of a previous row over the future of a Lichfield leisure centre could be axed from a task group looking to develop a replacement facility in the city.
Cllr Jamie Checkland had been earmarked as a member of the cross-party group put together by Lichfield District Council.
But his position is now in doubt after questions were raised over his involvement by another member, Lib Dem representative Cllr Paul Ray, at a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee.
The six-person group has temporarily been reduced to five members while a decision is made over the councillor’s involvement.
Cllr Tim Matthews, chairman of the leisure, parks and waste management (overview and scrutiny) committee, said:
“At the meeting we discussed who should be on the task group and confirmed the membership of five councillors.
“Following a recommendation by a committee member, we decided to delegate the decision about filling the sixth place to the task group.
“We also acknowledged the huge role the task group will have to play in the development of a new leisure facility in Lichfield, and how crucially important it is that we fully capture community need as we seek to shape the future provision of leisure in Lichfield.”Cllr Tim Matthews, Lichfield District Council
Cllr Checkland’s initial appearance in the task group had raised eyebrows after comments he made during the original battle to save Friary Grange Leisure Centre.
The Conservative member had claimed at a public meeting about keeping the facility open that The Friary School – of which he was a governor – “wanted their facilities back”.
“I’ve been fighting on behalf of The Friary School to get a fair crack of the whip in relation to the facilities and the income that comes in to the school and the way in which the pool and other elements are managed.
“My priority is the children of the school. They are there to be educated and the money that comes into The Friary School should be used for their education.
“For a number of years now, because of the contract signed in 1971 – when it was just a sports centre – the county council was paying a third and the district council paying two thirds. In 1978 a pool was built on the side and the contract was not changed.
“As time has eroded the school has been picking up the county council bill. As it stands, around about £70,000 a year goes towards supporting the sports centre and school – that’s your pupils’ money.
“We gave notice that the school wanted their facilities back. They do belong to the school and they create an income. They were built by the county council as a sports centre and astro turf pitch as part of the school.”Cllr Jamie Checkland speaking at a public meeting in July 2019
“Code of conduct”
The Friary School’s move to become an academy had been central to the reasoning behind the original plan to shut the neighbouring leisure centre.
Cllr Checkland’s dual role at the council house and as a governor led to another councillor asking whether there was a conflict of interest – with the Conservative representative later apologising for breaching the code of conduct after a debate about the facility.
He eventually opted to step down as a school governor, before resigning from senior roles at the local authority too.
“I do this to ensure the good work that needs to be carried out by these committees is not distracted any further.
“I was grateful for the chance to meet with you where I was able to prove to you my integrity over my past three years involvement concerning the issues at the Friary Grange Leisure Centre.
“I submit this and offer my continuing full support for the future and the progress you going to make.”Cllr Jamie Checkland’s email regarding his resignation from committee roles to Lichfield District Council leader Cllr Doug Pullen
Lichfield Live understands Cllr Checkland will be interviewed by council leader Doug Pullen and cabinet member Liz Little to decide whether he should take up a place on the task group.
“Should have been decided by the scrutiny committee”
Cllr Steve Norman, leader of the Labour opposition group at the council, has criticised a lack of decisive action by the overview and scrutiny committee on the issue of Cllr Checkland’s involvement .
“The decision on who should or should not be on the group should have been decided by the scrutiny committee there and then, but it was left for the leader and cabinet member, to ‘interview’ Cllr Checkland and report back.
“To be fair to the leader, Cllr Doug Pullen, I think he was trying to leave that to the scrutiny chairman, but I got the impression that the cabinet member was in charge of this.
“It’s scrutiny at Lichfield District Council – but not as I know it.”Cllr Steve Norman, Lichfield District Council