Thatcham Town Council in bid to borrow £760k for Priory community hub
Members have agreed to seek approval from the Department for Communities and Local Government to take on the debt, in the next step to create a community centre, with offices to house council staff, in the currently disused town centre building.
The decision was taken at the meeting of the full council on Monday evening, when it was also agreed that the current council offices in Brownsfield Road would be rented out rather than sold when vacated.
However, the row between the ruling Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives over the project was also re-ignited.
They have clashed over the future of the Grade II-listed building in Church Lane since the town council purchased it in 2010 from West Berkshire Council.
The Conservatives would like the site to be sold off for development, rather than see more public money being ploughed into the building, which has already cost £400,000 to acquire.
Town and district councillor Roger Croft (Con, Thatcham South and Crookham) said the council was on a slippery slope to making a serious judgement error, and fellow ward and party member, Dominic Boeck, agreed, calling it a huge risk to take on such a large mortgage.
He added: “There is empty office space all over West Berkshire and rentals are driven by climate.”
However, town council leader Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) said that the rental of the town council premises did not just have to be for offices as they could be used for a variety of ventures, from nurseries, to veterinary surgeries and medical facilities.
Calling it a “win-win for Thatcham”, town councillor Owen Jeffery (Lib Dem, Thatcham South and Crookham) said that the council would eventually pay off the mortgage and own the site and the facility.
Town councillor Lynne Pettyfer (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) pointed out the benefits to the community, saying: “It’s the fact that we are going to have new meeting rooms that will be used for local residents, that will be free of charge for drop-ins and one-to-ones, which will be a great benefit.”
The council plan includes providing new offices for its staff, two further suites for letting and a multi-purpose community space, plus a disabled platform lift and and accessible toilet. The money for the work is expected to be borrowed from the Government’s Public Works Loan Board.
West Berkshire Council has already approved the listed building consent application, but has yet to approve the full application.