Should £500k be spent on the town hall? Vote in our poll

PUBLISHED: 09:21 18 January 2013 | UPDATED: 09:21 18 January 2013

Saffron Walden Town Hall

Saffron Walden Town Hall

Archant

EMERGENCY repairs are to be carried out on Saffron Walden Town Hall as a first step to returning the popular 250-year-old venue to its former glory - but only if the community is willing to get behind the project.

The Reporter is launching a poll to gauge public opinion on whether or not people would like to see up to £500,000 spent on revitalising what has been described as “the social heart of the town”.

It will help councillors decide on the future of the town hall – with one member suggesting he would like to have a referendum on the matter.

Cllr Mike Hibbs told the Reporter that with the town council’s finances at breaking point he wanted people to be given responsibility for the things that affect them locally.

“Let’s have a referendum to see whether people want to see the town hall done up because they might turn around and say they don’t.

“That is what happens in other countries – electors are asked what they are willing to pay for. That is what localism is all about.”

Cllr Hibbs said the coffers were bare because of Uttlesford District Council’s decision to pass responsibility for Bridge End Garden and the cemetery onto the town council.He said it meant there was no money left to spend on things like improving the town hall, describing it as a “major concern”.

“It is a sloppy situation we have found ourselves in. The district council passed a number of things to the town council to look after and inevitably the cost of running these things is huge – that is why they were handed to us.

“It has left the town council in the position where there is no money left for anything else.”

Cllr Nick Osborne, chairman of the town hall working group, said the 2013/14 precept – to be agreed by full council next Thursday (January 24) – was not going to be enough to cover any major improvements to the town hall but added Council Tax could be increased if the community wanted to support the renovation of the facility.

“We are only doing the essential repairs at the moment. If the town wanted to pay extra tax to support the town hall then it could be something we could do, but who wants to pay more tax?” he said.

“A fundamental question that needs to be asked is do we look after it as a curator for the next generation or do we let it go downhill? It is a great asset for the town – a community resource paid for by the community and used by the community.”

He said another option could be for donations from the public as part of an appeal, which has happened in the past.

The town council’s dilemma could be further impacted by a potential move by the Government to introduce a cap on the precept at parish level from 2014/15.

New rules applying to UDC from this April mean that if the authority had chosen to raise its precept by more than 2 per cent it would have triggered a referendum – at a cost of £5,000 to the taxpayer.

An announcement on whether a similar restriction will be brought in for parish councils is likely to be made next year.

Saffron Walden clerk Simon Lloyd said staggering an increase in the town council’s precept over a number of years was a possibility to fund the town hall renovation, but that if a cap was introduced it would make that difficult.

It is unclear what the increase in the Council Tax would have to be at this stage.

Areas of the facility identified for immediate improvements are the balcony in the assembly room, outside fire escape and the roof of the upstairs changing room – at a cost of around £45,000.

The estimated total needed to make all the necessary improvements could be in the region of £500,000.

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