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Council accused of reneging on Croft building deal

Pay up, says town mayor

John Garvey

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John Garvey

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04-1112C Martin Crane

HUNGERFORD town councillors have accused West Berkshire Council of reneging on a deal over the Croft Field building.

Both parties were to pay half of the £17,000 renovation costs.

But now the disagreement has left the town council facing a bill it can ill afford after the district council said it was counting the £8,500 it paid via a separate, district councillors’ members bid as its contribution.

Minutes from a full meeting of the town council last November record that West Berkshire Council offered to pay half of the £17,000 estimated expenditure costs which need to be completed in the first two years, and offered rent at £3,000 per annum, with three years rent free.

The town council also points to an email from West Berkshire Council estates officer Colin Broughton to Hungerford town clerk Claire Barnes, dated October 22 last year in which he states: “In consideration of Hungerford Town Council undertaking the repairs to the Croft building... within a period of 24 months from completion of the lease, West Berkshire Council will undertake to contribute 50 per cent of the costs of those works capped at a maximum contribution of £8,500 and in addition a rent free period of three years will be granted.”

However, in the meantime district councillors James Podger and Paul Hewer (both Con, Hungerford) each successfully used their privilege of making a member’s bid, where district councillors are able to bid for up to £5,000 each for projects in their ward.

The work was completed this month; the town council used the members’ bid money as its contribution and then looked to the district council’s estates office to stump up the rest as agreed.

However, Mr Broughton has now replied, stating: “Whilst the lease does say West Berkshire Council will pay up to £8,500 towards the works, the question seems to be whether the bid was considered to be the council’s device for providing this amount rather than in addition to the contribution referred to in the lease.

“The lease does also give a three-year rent free equivalent to £9,000 so in essence (the district council) will have paid for the total cost of the works, as all income during the next three years will be received net by Hungerford Town Council.

“Currently West Berkshire Council feels that its obligation is fulfilled by the members’ bid rather than having an obligation to fund the additional cost of works as well.”

Town mayor Martin Crane said: “A lot of renovation work needed doing on the buildings there and this is work the district council should have done anyway.

“Nevertheless an agreement was reached in which we would have a three-year moratorium on the rent and that each council would pay £8,500 towards the works.

“Now it seems the district council are reneging on this. It leaves us with a huge bill for work which should have been done by them in the first place for things such as providing disabled access and so on.”

Mr Crane said he would continue to press for the remainder of the cash.

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