Wed, 14 Oct 2015
THATCHAM Town Council will be consulting on the impact of selling the Priory, while it seeks offers on the building.
Last week the Conservative-controlled town council voted to seek expressions of interest on the Grade-II listed building in Church Gate.
The building will be marketed for expressions of interest, for a best possible price, on an open bid basis for two months.
Liberal Democrat councillors, who want to see the building restored for community use, opposed the motion.
The Conservatives see the project as a huge financial burden to Thatcham taxpayers and are looking to stop the project.
Speaking at the full council meeting, Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) said that the arguments between the opposing parties were well rehearsed.
But he added that there had been “overwhelmingly positive” responses from residents who had signed a petition to stop the building being sold.
In response, the chairman of the Priory committee, Roger Croft (Con, Thatcham South and Crookham), said that the petition did not address the debt issue.
He added that a decision to sell the building would have to be made by councillors.
“Under Thatcham Town Council the Priory as a building is safe. The argument is about debt,” Mr Croft said.
“That is the fundamental decision. Until we get more information we can’t make a decision [on whether to sell the building].”
The decision to market the Priory followed councillors discussing a consultation strategy to assess the impact of selling the building at a separate meeting.
Noting that a public exhibition was not included in the draft strategy, Mr Dillon asked whether one could be added.
“Consultations in my experience are normally about the impact of doing or not doing something,” Mr Croft replied.
“What would be the impact of selling or keeping the Priory?
“If we are to do a consultation it should be on the impact to the public and whether they want to pay the money or not.”
The clerk to the council, Elaine Hare, explained to councillors that 89 out of 94 people had been in favour of restoring the Priory for community use when the council exhibited the plans in 2014.
Dominic Boeck (Con, Thatcham South and Crookham) said: “Eighty-nine responses is small compared with the population of Thatcham.
“We should be making an executive decision on what we are doing with the Priory and consult on that.
“This is what we are doing, how does it affect you?”
Referring to the May elections when the Conservatives gained control of the town council Mr Croft added: “There was a huge consultation in Thatcham four months ago and the people of Thatcham made their views abundantly clear.”
Mr Croft said that the town council would work with Thatcham Vision, as it was “used to justify the Priory” project, in order for it to comment on the impact of selling the building.
Speaking on the decision to market the building, Ann Morgan, who started the Save the Priory petition, said she was disappointed with the decision.
Mrs Morgan, who stood as a Lib Dem candidate for the town council, said: “I don’t believe they are acting in the best interests of Thatcham residents. They are holding on to a view point of a cash basis and forgetting that the community needs this.”
More than 400 people have signed the petition, which can be found at www.change.org