Village hall plans row as grant could be lost

PUBLISHED: 09:24 27 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:24 27 February 2020

Debden Village Hall. Photo: SAFFRON PHOTO.

Debden Village Hall. Photo: SAFFRON PHOTO.


A grant of hundreds of thousands of pounds for a new village hall could be lost while delays and arguments rage on - a residents’ group says.

One of the group asked not to be named for fear of reprisals - citing past incidents of physical and verbal retaliation - while a spokeswoman for the group said she did not want to be named "because I don't want my house to be burnt down."

The parish council meeting focused on a grant of £236,400 obtained by the Debden Village Hall Trust (VHT) in 2015, from the Armed Forces Community Covenant scheme.

The residents group says the parish council and VHT know the grant is time-sensitive, but have "ignored" the warning.

"The army have generously extended deadline after deadline, but say unless the groups can provide evidence of funding to build the hall in the next few weeks, they will reluctantly have to withdraw the funds," the spokeswoman said.

"It is highly unlikely that a loan can be achieved within the time frame."

The deadline for providing the evidence for the funding is around the middle of March.

The grant would not only need to be used in a specific time frame, but also in conjunction with extra funding to cover all the costs.

Locals say the plan put forward by the trust and the new parish council is expensive, has no planning approval and no ecological report, making it a long process against a tight deadline.

Residents also say the parish council is planning to borrow a "substantial sum" from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) to fund the new village hall, which the council had previously ruled out at public meetings.

"When the parish council was asked how they were to fund such huge shortfalls in funds, residents were assured that this was not an avenue they would consider.

"It is highly likely that this will incur an increase in the council tax for each household in Debden," the residents' spokeswoman said.

An alternative plan to the one drawn up by the local authorities was created by residents at their own expense in 2017.

Fears about lack of progress in building a new hall prompted the residents to provide a new design on the existing hall's site. They say this was "extremely well supported by the community."

The alternative plan received £50,000 from residents, has planning permission and is £250,000 cheaper than the VHT and parish council plan, according to residents.

What is more, it does not involve the expensive demolition of the sports pavilion.

After calls for the public works loan to have a majority support from the village, the parish council said they would organise a consultation with every household.

However, the residents' group says the council refuses to put the alternative plan down as an option.

Mike Fairchild, chairman of the Debden New Village Hall Group (NVHG), said: "The Residents of Debden Action Group represents a vociferous minority who interrupted the parish council's February meeting, when the chairman gave a straightforward explanation of how the new hall will be funded.

"The group has misinterpreted the figures."

Mr Fairchild says the project will cost about £729,000, which includes the demolition of the pavilion.

He said to meet the gap between the money raised and the sum still needed, the parish council will look at PWLB loans, "repayable through the parish council precept, starting in 2021/22".

He said: "This is common practice among parish councils because of low interest rates for borrowing and long repayment terms.

"The council tax increase is small and the loan can be drawn down if and when it is needed.

"The new hall team has been in constant dialogue with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on final stages of fundraising to meet the grant deadline."

The NVHG chairman also said the final decision will be reached by public consultation, where residents will be reminded "why the new hall needs to be built on the chosen site, why that is the only option, and how much it will cost each household."

He said the current plan was agreed with residents over a three-year consultation period before it was submitted and that the application had been "temporarily withdrawn" to work on an ecological report which should not pose any problems.

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