Contentious Selsey memorial bench policy - Town council makes a decision

Memorial bench in East Beach, Selsey. Picture by Steve Robards
Memorial bench in East Beach, Selsey. Picture by Steve Robards

A final decision has been made in relation to the contentious memorial bench policy in Selsey.

In December, the Observer reported that dedications to loved ones on benches could be removed unless families pay £600 to renew their 'ten year lease' - despite having paid hundreds of pounds for them more than a decade ago. Read more here

Selsey Town Council asserted at the time that it owns the memorial benches on East Beach and issued them under a ten year agreement.

This sparked outrage amongst holders of the memorial benches, who felt the introduction of a 'ten-year lease' was a recent ruling, and 'completely different' from the agreement the historical plaques were purchased under prior to 2010.

As a way of 'challenging the legality' of the policy, 12 of the memorial bench holders sent the council a letter, which resulted in the matter being added to the town council's asset and amenities committee agenda on January 16. This led to both the memorial policy and the current waiting list being suspended, pending determination of the issues raised.

Providing an update to the Observer yesterday (Thursday), a town council spokesman said: "We sent out a letter to the majority of cases where memorial seating was in situ prior to the adoption of the council’s first memorial policy in 2010. We are still in the process of contacting and resolving all 48 cases.

"In investigating the issues the council has had to consider its responsibility to act in the wider public interest as well as responding to the concerns of those individuals affected. As stated in the letter, we assert our ownership of the benches, providing them as a public amenity and insuring and maintaining them through public funds.

"We do accept however, in the case of seating sited prior to 2010, that those arranging memorials could not have expected them to be limited in time by policy.

"We have therefore accepted that these memorials will remain while the individual benches are serviceable and/or landowner permission remains in place. As a council we raise funds through the council tax system and feel that this solution balances the interests of our taxpayers against those of the individual memorial holders."

However, in its letter sent to the memorial bench holders, the town council said its 'research has shown that [it] has ordered and paid for memorial seating in its own name through public funds' and asserted that 'ownership of the benches, which provide a public amenity, resides with STC'.

It added: "Further, the money you contributed at the time of dedication was treated by the town council as a donation not as a supply of service or goods.

"The donation you made contributed to the provision and maintenance of a public amenity and was gratefully received, however, it should be noted that the donations do not cover the cost of providing, fitting, maintaining and monitoring the benches over their lifespan or of managing the provision of public seating.

Although, 'in making these assertions', Selsey Town Council said it recognises the way the system of memorial dedication was managed prior to the adoption of its first policy in 2010 was 'informal and inconsistent'.

It added: "This has led to assumption and confusion regarding ownership and latterly, concern and upset following the council’s decision to retrospectively apply the terms of the 2018 memorial policy to benches sited prior to January 2010.

"As previously stated, the council is very sorry for the distress this has caused. We are committed to alleviating the concerns that have arisen and we therefore accept that individuals or
families who arranged a memorial dedication before 2010 had no expectation that this would be limited in time by policy or that they would be expected to reapply or make a further donation.

"If you have made a payment to the council in respect of a renewal, this will be refunded to you while the condition of all benches in situ is re-examined and recorded."

The council did warn that the benches must remain 'safe and serviceable as a public amenity'.

"This will be determined by council staff at twice yearly inspections," the letter read.

"If the bench is considered unsafe we are bound to remove it to maintain public safety."

It also said the benches, 'being in the ownership of the council, cannot be inherited'.

What do you think about the decision and conditions set? Let us know by calling 01243 534166.