Much-loved community building closer to being town council owned - but surveys will be carried out first
PUBLISHED: 11:17 13 November 2018 | UPDATED: 09:29 15 November 2018
An important building used by several community groups in Honiton has moved a step closer to being owned by the town council.
However, there are concerns that should the authority take on the Community Use Building, in School Lane, the move would be financially damaging.
At a meeting on Monday, councillors unanimously approved a motion to commission a full building survey and intrusive asbestos survey on the site to determine condition and potential costs to repair and maintain the building.
The council will also conduct a feasibility study, spearheaded by Councillor Mike Jones, to be prepared for members to consider at the town council meeting of January 14, 2019.
Devon County Council (DCC) has offered the town council the freehold of the building for £1, having deemed it ‘surplus to requirements’.
However, in their offer letter, DCC said it would carry out no remedial work and the offer would preclude the town council from doing various things with the building and site.
At present, those conditions have not been made available to the authority.
Speaking on Monday night, Cllr John Zarczynski said the potential costs of fixing up the CUB was of concern.
He added: “As a local body, we will have to make this building user-friendly for people who are disabled. We are looking at ramps and toilets – the costs are going to be considerable.
“We need to grab the bull by the horns and let’s find out what are the costs involved.”
Town council clerk Mark Tredwin said the council is looking at anywhere between £800 and £1,200 a day for a full asbestos survey.
He added: “That could take anywhere between two and four days. That’s the rough figure.
“If you then consider a similar price for the general survey, then you are looking at a cost of anything roughly between £4,800 and £9,600 between to the two surveys and it depends on how much we can push them down.”
Cllr Jill McNally said she was worried that the CUB has been offered to the council for £1 after the council failed to knock down DCC on the price.
She added: “They dug their heels in and said no and they are now offering it to us for £1. It’s lovely but something in me says you don’t get something for nothing.
“I’m so worried there’s something wrong with it, but if we do the right surveys, it will put my mind at rest.”
Mr Tredwin said as the town council’s Responsible Finance Officer, he needs to ensure anything the council funds is legal, and can be afforded in the ongoing future.
He added: “A feasibility study is essential. This council should not be making any agreements if it did not carry out a feasibility study. It is a legal requirement.”
Cllr Zarczynski voiced his concerns over the conditions which would be attached to the handover of the building.
He added: “Basically they [DCC] clearly state in the offer there will be conditions attached to the handover but do not say what.
“Although they indicate we would have to use it for community use, there could be other conditions that would have possibly considerable financial implications on us, such as bringing the building up to certain standards.
“I think they really need to put their cards on the table and say ‘these will be the conditions’... so that we know exactly what we are taking on. From that, will give us a much clearer picture.”
The idea of the town council acquiring the CUB began in September last year.
A business plan was submitted to DCC earlier this year, with a final update requesting the building is brought up to a safe condition with the electrics made safe and asbestos removed.
Five groups currently use the CUB, including Honiton Youth Club and Honiton Parent and Toddler Group.
Councillors were asked to sum up their thoughts before the vote was cast.
Cllr Caroline Kolek said: “A lot of what’s been raised this evening is based on unknowns.
“How much is it going to cost? Will it be financially viable? It’s all unknown and we don’t know until we have done a full survey and we look at how the land lies and whether or not we take this forward.
“There are lots of places we can raise the funds from, but my closing words will be ‘If we do not invest in the young people in this town, what a sorry band of people we are’.
Cllr Daniel Jefferson said both of his children attend the toddler group which uses the CUB.
He added: “If that was to go, it would a massive loss for me and my family.
“In terms of the costs of doing the surveys, we have got to do it.”
Cllr Terry Darrant said he thought it was shame DCC put the groups in the situation in the first place.
He added: “If there was some way we can help, I would support a survey as well.”
Cllr Mike Jones said: “Let’s not pass the buck - let’s approve a survey... and then make an informed decision based on solid intelligence.
“We have a duty to fully explore this before making a final decision.”