THATCHAM residents have spoken of their disappointment at the town council’s decision to sell the Priory.
The Conservative-controlled town council voted at a heated meeting last week to market the Grade-II listed building for the best possible value.
Town Conservatives see the project, which is expected to cost £885,000 – paid through Government loans and reserves – as a debt burden to Thatcham residents.
The Liberal Democrats, who initiated the project, planned to refurbish the Churchgate building for community use.
And once the loans were paid off, the town council would own the asset for the benefit of the town.
Expressions of interest sought for the building have shown that the town council could lose between £500,000 and £800,000 if the Priory is sold.
The town council received letters from residents and community organisations, including the headmaster of Kennet School and the Scouts, about retaining the Priory.
Members of the public opposed to the sale turned up to speak, but the town mayor decided not to allow this, saying that the arguments had been heard many times before.
The former chairwoman of Thatcham Vision, Stephanie Steevenson, said: “I think we need to call this a public gagging order” after being denied the chance to speak on behalf of a 90-year-old resident.
Thatcham resident Ann Morgan, who started a petition to save the Priory, which collected 443 signatures, branded the attitude of Conservative councillors at the meeting as high handed.
Mrs Morgan, who stood as a Liberal Democrat candidate for the town council in May, said: “I think it’s a sad day for Thatcham. Once again the people of the town have been done over.
“Thatcham continues to be the Cinderella of West Berkshire. We want to go to the ball and have our own civic centre.”
She added that selling the building would leave the town council with a loan to pay off but nothing to show for it.
The town council also voted not to hold a public consultation on selling the building, which has been empty since it was bought in 2009.
Speaking at the meeting, Roger Croft (Con, Thatcham South and Crookham) said: “Consultation is about impact. There can’t be an impact on people because it has not been used.”
Dominic Boeck (Con, Thatcham South and Crookham) added that the Conservatives had consulted with residents by winning a majority on the town council.
But Mrs Morgan said she had “never heard such a load of hooey” and that the local elections had been decided on national issues.
“That’s not a referendum to say we can do what we like,” she said.
Mrs Morgan said that she hoped councillors would review the figures by the time a formal offer for the Priory came in.
She said that an ideal solution would be for community members to buy the building, although this was at an early stage of thought.
Thatcham Historical Society member and scheme director of Heartstart Thatcham, Dr Nick Young, said he was disappointed but not surprised at the decision.
He said: “While the building has indeed been saved it is not going to benefit the community, something I think the taxpayers of Thatcham want and deserve.
“I am disappointed that members of the public were not allowed to speak at the meeting, and also that the Tory councilors would not ask for public opinion.”