THATCHAM Town Council could suffer a loss of more than £850,000 if it were to sell the Priory but it is still looking for potential buyers.
In 2009, the then Liberal Democrat-controlled town council purchased the building for £400,000 with the aim of using it as a community centre.
It has been sitting empty since then, and, after taking control of the town council, Conservative councillors have sought to kill the project, calling it a huge debt to Thatcham ratepayers.
Councillors met last week to view valuations on the Grade II-listed building, which revealed that the town council would lose £854,172 if it sold the Priory for commercial use.
This is compared to a loss of £619,172 for residential use and £569,172 if it were sold for a development opportunity.
The estimated cost of selling the Priory, including expected clawback costs, legal fees and penalties on early loan repayments, is £1.4m.
Quintons valued the building at £540,000; £775,000 and £825,000 respectively.
Describing the valuations as disappointing, Roger Croft (Con, Thatcham South and Crookham) said: “If we were to sell it we would suffer a substantial loss.”
Jason Collis (Con, Thatcham North) said that the amount that the town council was paying on the Priory’s loan was double that which the authority handed out in grant money for the year.
“Cards on the table I am not someone who is willing to sell something at a loss but as councillors we have an obligation to residents,” he said. “This came as a major shock to see something that is not worth what we have spent so far.”
“That would be true if we sold it,” Mike Cole (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) replied. “The plans were never to sell. The plans were to keep it as a resource for the town.”
Based on a review of the town council’s assets, the Liberal Democrat plan for the building includes the town council using the building for office and meeting space.
The current offices in Brownsfield Road, along with rooms in the Priory, would be rented out to help pay off the loan.
Mr Cole, a former bank manager and former chair of the Priory committee, explained that the town council would be left with repaying a loan of £34,814 (over 25 years) if the Priory project was completed.
He said this compared to a worst case scenario repayment of £49,275 over the same period if the Priory was sold for commercial use.
“If you sell and get rid of the asset you are still left with loan repayments of more than you would have at the moment; and that’s the best case scenario,” Mr Cole said.
Looking to seek a better rate for the building, Mr Croft suggested that the only way to gauge interest was to put the Priory on the market.
Mr Collis added: “I’m not in favour of walking away with a huge debt but the only way we will know is to put it on the market.”
However, Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) said that as the valuations were in the public domain, the realistic chance of a developer paying more for the building was pretty slim.
“You have done that work and are now saying you don’t trust the figures,” he said.
Conservative councillors voted to seek expressions of interest on the Priory. Mr Collis said: “We are not making a decision to sell we are just adding to the information pool.”
The proposal will go before full council at a meeting on September 28.