THERE could be a new chapter in the Priory saga, provided that Thatcham Town Council can find a trusted developer.
Just as the Conservatives were about to complete their long-desired aim of selling the building to a private buyer, they hit a snag when the buyer pulled out.
This led them to putting the building back on the market during a heated meeting last month, sparking anger from the Liberal Democrats.
The latter had purchased the Priory in 2009 with the intention of employing it for community use. However, work only began in April last year and the cost of the project had spiralled.
The Conservatives viewed the building as a white elephant and a drain on Thatcham taxpayers.
The two parties clashed again at last month’s meeting, with the Conservatives shooting down the Liberal Democrat request for a public consultation over the future of the Grade II-listed building.
But now the town council is looking at other options for the Priory while a new buyer is sought.
Friction between the two parties appeared to have cooled at a meeting last week, where councillors weighed up their options.
Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) asked whether working with a developer in a joint venture was an option being explored.
He argued that this could maximise income from the Priory with the possibility of converting the top floor into flats, while renting out the remaining space to businesses or community groups.
“We want to keep it fully as a community asset. I appreciate that we don’t have the votes to do that, but can we look at other viable options that reduce the level of what you call debt on the property while keeping the community element?” he asked.
While not “fundamentally against” Mr Dillon’s proposal, Dominic Boeck (Con, Thatcham South and Crookham) had his concerns.
He said: “If we go to a developer, let’s face it they’re sharks, and will want to make as much money as they can. They’re going to be rubbing their hands with glee.
He added that it was not feasible to ask a developer to invest in the whole property and only have a couple of units for sale – “they are going to want something else to make money on”.
Town council leader Jason Collis (Con, Thatcham North) said the idea would be dependent on a developer preparing a plan for the building.
“It’s possible, but we’d need to find a developer who we could trust a lot to get into bed with to deliver the project,” he said.
“We can start asking questions and see how far we get.”
The town council will also be asking Newbury-based chartered surveyor Quintons for advice on marketing the building.
Mr Collis said: “We are not asking them what to do with the building, we are asking about how best to market it. At this stage it will be fact-finding.
“Depending on the results we may have to move quicker.”
However, having said that all options were open, Mr Collis added that renting the building under residential use was not going to be explored.