Groups ‘priced out’ by Saffron Walden town hall rental charges

Saffron Walden Town Hall

Saffron Walden Town Hall - Credit: Archant

Community organisations are up in arms after a rise in town hall rental rates has led some groups to say they are being priced out.

Saffron Walden’s historic Market Square building has long been a well-used meeting place for charities, play groups, dance classes and coffee mornings.

But now the town council, which for the last three years has held room rent rates, has increased the price, in some cases by more than 200 per cent.

Grassroots initiative Walden In Transition holds a monthly coffee morning, but fears this Saturday will be their last.

“We run it for the community – it’s a great community asset which we’ve been doing for three-and-a-half years,” co-ordinator Gay Veal told the Reporter.

“We just can’t cover our costs though with the rent increase, so this will be our last one,” added Gay, who says the morning usually attracts 40 or 50 people.

Previously the group rented out the committee room for just £6.50 an hour on Saturdays, but the new £25 an hour rent is likely to be prohibitive for non-profit small groups. Although charities will get 50 per cent off the charge, community groups such as Walden In Transition will not benefit from the discount.

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Theirs is not the only group to suffer.

Daniel Bradley, who has hired rooms in the town hall for five years for his not-for-profit martial arts club Mushinzui as well as Saffron Walden Meditation Group, says the move is likely to be a disaster for the community.

“I have been forced to relocate to another venue as the new prices are prohibitively expensive,” said Dr Bradley.

“As things stand, it looks like the town hall, which is effectively the community centre for the town centre, will soon be stood empty most of the time.

“This will be a complete waste of our hard earned council tax, not to mention not being great for the community at large.

“This decision by our elected representatives is in my view in complete contradiction to ethos that underpins Saffron Walden and surrounding villages,” he adds.

Mike Hibbs, a member of the Property, Services and Finance Committee, which agreed to the hike in February, said: “I would hope that the new council review it. I am against it ... there was a mistaken belief before that the town hall should be run as a commercial exercise, I personally think it’s a service for the community.

“It’s the social heart of the town and an important part of our community. As such it’s essential that the town hall should make it available for non commercial organisations, and I hope it will be reviewed.”

Town clerk Gordon Mussett defended the decision.

“It is a commercial decision,” he said. “For the past three and a half years there has been a squeeze on funding for the town and parish councils.

“During that time the town council has been forced to absorb the costs and one of the things we have to do this is to increase the hire.

“We are charging what is essentially the going rate.”

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