Portsmouth community cafe leads calls for referendum over future of council decision-making

Supporters of The Arts Lodge and Park Cafe in Victoria Park Portsmouth protesting earlier in the year Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (160836-1)

Supporters of The Arts Lodge and Park Cafe in Victoria Park Portsmouth protesting earlier in the year Picture: Ian Hargreaves (160836-1)

Campaigners vow to never stop fighting for Southsea pub

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CALLS are being made for a referendum to be held over the way decisions are made in Portsmouth on the back of a massive community drive to save Victoria Park and its cultural hub.

More than 7,000 campaigners have signed petitions demanding the council rethink its proposals to kick out the tenants of the park’s The Lodge Arts Centre Cafe, a meeting place for artists and musicians.

We have elected representatives who make decisions on behalf of the people who voted for them. We have one of the strongest democracies in the world so this is a terrible idea.

Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council

And there is concern over the Tory-led council’s decision to publish details of an action plan – that the public wasn’t consulted upon – which outlines how the park could be changed and suggests an aviary for exotic birds be axed.

Now critics want a local referendum to ask the public whether all future decisions by the council should be taken with the public and not behind closed doors.

But council leader Donna Jones has rubbished the idea and said it would cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Lodge Arts Centre operator, Mark Lewis, said: ‘This has turned out to be very, very big.

‘We have got one chance at this, and we are going to go for a referendum.

‘We will start a new campaign, and we will be looking to ask one question; and that will be whether we take the decision-making out of the chamber and bring that process into the public domain.’

Cllr Jones said: ‘To put in everything you would need for this referendum, such as extra polling stations, would cost in excess of £200,000.

‘We have elected representatives who make decisions on behalf of the people who voted for them.

‘We have one of the strongest democracies in the world so this is a terrible idea. The Victoria Park master plan is something Mr Lewis is not happy with; yet there was a public meeting, where people were able to make deputations.

‘It was a fair and democratic process.

‘We have kick-started work to create a proper master plan, we will then consult on it and then there will be a public meeting at the end of it.’

The Lib Dems have run their own consultation about the park.

They say more than 2,000 people have completed surveys asking questions about how the area can be improved – with 95 per cent of respondents saying they want to see the aviary kept.

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