The West Beckenham Residents’ Association (WBRA) was formed just after the Second World War as the Kent and Manor House Ratepayers Association.
The article below was published to mark the 50th anniversary of WBRA, explaining how and why it was set up. Even in the mid 1940s, it was, in fact, a revival of a previous ratepayers’ organisation that existed before the First World War.
WBRA therefore has a long and distinguished history that current members and officers try to maintain!
Fiftieth anniversary of WBRA
The following article was published in The Review on the 50th anniversary of West Beckenham Residents’ Association in April 1995.
Tuesday 18th September 1945
Under a headline “Ratepayers Organise – A New Association” the Beckenham Journal reported that “A crowded meeting at West Beckenham Hall, with people lining the walls when every seat had been occupied, enthusiastically launched the Kent and Manor House Ratepayers Association.”
What were the issues which had prompted the formation of a new association?
For Councillor Atkins accountability of the use of public money was at the heart of the matter. Pointing out that residents of the area paid £75,000 each year in rates, he went on to ask “Were they getting value for their money? Were they interested? If they were not then they could hardly expect those who represented them to be interested; but strangely enough they were. Let them see what interest the ratepayers had. On an average, not counting the war period, during the previous twenty years not one person in five troubled to vote in the local elections. What was the good of complaining about the rates if they did not take the trouble to vote for the people who made them?”
Although the responsibility of the Local Authority and the size of its budget have changed enormously in the past fifty years, Councillor Atkins’ concerns are as valid today as they were in 1945, and he would, no doubt, be encouraged to learn that the turnout in local elections in this area is now far higher than the 20% he bemoaned at the inaugural meeting.
Some things, however, never change. Councillor Boyd reported to the meeting in 1945 that “If the Council proposed to erect a new building for some purpose or other, they would find the ratepayers’ association would tell them they wanted it, but they wanted it in the next fellow’s ward (laughter).” The same speech is still being recycled by Councillors the length and breadth of the country, but behind the laughter is a serious point. Local opinion is bound to reflect self-interest, but at least the Councillor, as the local representative, is informed of the local mood. Take that away and the Councillor votes in a vacuum. In that case, to echo Councillor Atkins, it is both pointless and unreasonable to criticise a Councillor for taking an unpopular decision.
The current Treasurer would no doubt reflect with a degree of envy upon the report that “an interval took place during which the stewards were busy collecting enrolment forms and subscriptions”.
Perhaps fittingly, the last word should go to the first Chairman Mr W R Rudland, who pointed out that the Association formed in 1945 was in fact a revival of a previous organisation which had existed for about sixteen years prior to the outbreak of the 1914-18 War, and the objectives remained the same – “to safeguard the interests of the ratepayers generally”.