IT SHOULD have been a hub for the community of a Hampshire village to enjoy.

But instead battle lines have been drawn over the Lowford Community Centre after the parish council was barred from using it in a row over its lease.

Bursledon Parish Council have been effectively evicted from their offices by the Bursledon and District Community Association (BDCA), which manages the building.

The future of the village library is now in doubt as it is run by the parish council and its army of library volunteers who have also been barred from using it.

Furious parish councillors are now considering a legal challenge against the BDCA, whilst the controversial move has also led to the resignation of two top Eastleigh councillors from the board of the community association in protest.

Eastleigh council leader Cllr House, who represents Bursledon on Hampshire County Council, stepped down claiming the organisation had “serious questions to answer”.

However, association chairman John Misselbrook, pictured left, denied wrongdoing and said the council had breached its lease.

The £3.5million facility in Portsmouth Road was built two years ago and houses a GP surgery, community rooms, volunteer-run library and parish office.

Volunteers have been told to stay away by the parish council until the dispute is resolved, although Mr Misselbrook says he has invited them to come back.

The library is currently open for self-service from 8.30am to 4pm.

Borough council boss Keith House and fellow cabinet member Tonia Craig, who lives in Bursledon, have resigned from the board, escalating tensions which have simmered for several years over the association’s governance.

Cllr House said: “I am deeply concerned by the actions of BDCA. As a board director I was not even informed that this seizure of the office was to happen, nor was it clearly shown as an agenda item on a board meeting.

"This despite leading a mediation attempt between BDCA and the council over the past two months.

“The community association has serious questions to answer about its internal governance and its failure to maximise public benefit from the library area.”

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Cllr Mark McCormick said: “It’s a big, big hit for the community, for the people of Bursledon. How successful it is is testament to the volunteers.

“This is one of the most successful community libraries in the area. We’ve got other libraries coming to visit the library to look at how we run it.”

Library volunteer Avis Hunt said: “I’m appalled. I can’t believe that so much public money could be spent on a situation which should have been sorted a long time ago.

“This association is supposed to be for the Bursledon community – do they really speak for the community?”

Mr Misselbrook, managing director of pesticide company Agform and a former councillor, said the council had been given four months to resolve the issue which surrounds the volunteers not having undergone criminal record checks before taking up their posts assisting users of the library.

He said: “Despite repeated and lengthy communications, Bursledon Parish Council has not been able to demonstrate that it can, or is willing, to meet the requirements of our insurers.

“Our action ensures that the community centre and its users are adequately protected and covered by our insurance, particularly in regard to child protection, which is obviously in the public interest.”

Twenty volunteers have met for the AGM of the Friends of Lowford Community Library and heard how it could be months before the dispute is resolved.

Mum-of-three Jessica Creed, from Bursledon, said: “We do use it a fair bit and it’s not fair that they’ve kicked them out.

“It’s a community centre - without the library, what would it be? A private cafe and hall which has extortionate prices to hire.”

She added: “We did use the volunteers but because it’s a self-service book system we just learnt to use it ourselves.”

Bursledon Parish Council is due to meet tonight at 7pm in Pilands Wood Community Centre, Chamberlayne Road, where the issue is expected to be discussed.