All systems go for community centre

Honiton Town Council jumps through final hoop and wins district council backing. ‘Now is not the time to pull the plug’, the district’s cabinet agrees.

Fund-raising for the proposed Honiton Community Centre is set to take off in a big way - now that East Devon District Council has given the �2.1million scheme the green light.

Planning permission for the centre was granted last week following unanimous support from members of the council’s development management committee.

Honiton ward member Phil Twiss proposed the recommendation.

At a separate meeting, of the council’s cabinet, on Wednesday, the district authority paved the way for progress by approving a set of measures that, in effect, will see officers from Knowle providing project management support.

However, Honiton Town Council now has just two years to get the construction work started - or the district council will review its funding commitment running into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The district council has also restricted its contribution to the project in the form of “a front end capital sum in the confident expectation that the complex will, in accordance with its business plan, maintain income over expenditure”.

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After a battle spanning three decades, those who have led the project were visibly moved when cabinet members unanimously removed some of the remaining hurdles - meaning the centre has a real chance of being developed on a car park next to Honiton Magistrates’ Court.

Former mayor Vivienne Ash, an honorary Alderman of the district authority, stepped forward, pressed a speaker button and told cabinet members through a microphone: “Thank you!”

She had previously addressed the meeting, saying she had believed for more than 20 years that Honiton needs a community centre.

She said the centre was a vital component of the town council’s plans to ensure Honiton continues as a thriving market town.

A positive decision was essential for the delivery of the project, she told councillors.

Councillor Andrew Moulding, the district council’s deputy leader, paid tribute to Councillor Ash’s hard work and determination over the years. “If this project goes ahead it will be down to Vivienne Ash,” he said.

But he had a word of warning for community centre enthusiasts. He added: “By my calculation, the project needs to raise a couple of thousand pounds a week, but I am sure that can be achieved if the people of Honiton come together.”

Councillor Graham Godbeer admitted he had been the councillor who recommended a previous site, in front of the Thelma Hulbert Gallery, be withdrawn as the main contender for the centre.

He said: “Councillor Ash has really kept this going and she is to be congratulated.

“The support for the centre has evidently been growing.

“The report we have seen shows it can actually succeed, but it is still going to need an awful lot of work from the community; a community that is now getting behind this.”

According to Councillor David Cox, the success of the project could hinge on the enthusiasm of whoever is appointed to manage the centre.

And Councillor Ray Bloxham said: “We have put down a lot of hoops that Honiton had to jump through.

“They have jumped through those hoops and now is not the time to pull the plug.”

Extended coverage in tomorrow’s Herald.