Wed, 31 Aug 2016
THATCHAM Town Council is looking for a new buyer for the Priory, sparking clashes between town politicians yet again.
The Conservatives voted to sell the Grade II-listed building for around £850,000 in December last year.
But just as the sale was nearing completion, the buyers pulled out.
The sale to a private buyer would have ended the Liberal Democrats’ proposals to use the Priory for community use and town council office space.
The estimated cost of the project so far is £1.4m.
Both parties view their opposition’s scheme as a waste of money; the Conservatives say that residents have been saddled with a huge debt, while the Lib Dems say that selling the building at a loss would result in having to repay a loan with nothing to show for it.
It was no surprise then, when councillors clashed again over the future of the building at a meeting last week.
Lib Dem councillor Lee Dillon (Thatcham North) called for a full public consultation over the sale of the building to be carried out.
He said that the project, which stemmed from community planning group Thatcham Vision, had overwhelming support.
Indeed, he said that people who turned up to the meeting showed a strong sense of feeling about the Priory.
Former mayor Stephanie Steevenson urged councillors not to waste a second opportunity and to have the needs of the community at heart.
“Your pledge was to reduce the debt, not to sell the building or the site,” Mr Dillon said.
“You have not consulted on it. This council has had numerous letters from influential people in the town saying how much they value this project and want to see it happen.
“You have acted without going out to ask their views.”
Supporting the call was Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem, Thatcham West), who asked the Conservatives not to be so dogmatic.
He said: “Don’t end up knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.
“You are here to provide resources for the town, don’t end up with a debt with nothing to show for it.
“Big people change their mind, be big.”
Mr Dillon also asked the Conservatives to carry out a feasibility study assessing interest rates and the needs of the town in the wake of West Berkshire Council’s cuts.
This would determine whether a new business plan could be put together for keeping the building for community use.
Mr Dillon added that the Lib Dems had carried out an independent review at the request of Conservative councillors to see how to best manage town council assets.
But it was all in vain as the Conservative majority rejected the amendments.
Dominic Boeck (Con, Thatcham South and Crookham) said he would not support any motion that would drag the issue on further.
He said that when the Lib Dems were resoundingly rejected in last year’s elections the Conservatives had come to power with the aim of reducing the £1.3m of debt that “they saddled the people of Thatcham with”.
“They seem to think they speak for the people of Thatcham.
“They are forgetting that they spent the money of the people of Thatcham,” he said.
The town council will now remarket the building for the best price possible for commercial or residential use.
But the saga isn’t over as the Conservatives have said that they will be exploring other options while looking for a buyer.