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Council admits Corn Exchange work slow
COUNCILLORS hope to begin fundraising to restore Witney’s Corn Exchange in April but have admitted the reopening has been a slow process.
Witney Town Council closed the public hall in November 2011 after a safety inspection showed it had major problems with fire escapes, stonework and heating and electrical systems.
Since then, councillors have conducted public consultations into its future use and brought on board cultural development agency Oxford Inspires.
It is expected to report back to the council in April with a business case and feasibility study for the restoration, and this will allow fundraising to begin.
Public halls committee chairman Toby Morris was questioned about the long-running saga at Witney’s annual town meeting last week.
After a member of the public said she had hoped the restoration would be further along by now, he said: “At the very start of the process so did I. But it was very important that we got the views of the users and tried to get the engagement of the public to find out what the wants and needs were.
“It is not an overly fast process, but we have now got the plan in place and know what the vision is and what we are looking to do with the building.”
He said the feasibility study and business plan by Oxford Inspires, which worked on the Pegasus and Old Fire Station redevelopments in Oxford, would be available in April.
He said the council was originally hoping to get the report in February but the “logistics of getting all the information required” had delayed it.
But questioned about the future funding of the project, he said: “The funding is not slowing up the work yet. We know a lot of grant bodies, but all these questions will not get answered until we get the plan and feasibility study, and then go out and ask what money is available and whether we can have some.
“I am not saying it won’t slow up the work, but we do not know until we get to that point.
“Once we have done the feasibility and business plan it is at that point we will know how much is required to fulfil the dream.”
Mr Morris was also asked whether the council had considered a quick fix so the Corn Exchange could be opened earlier.
He said: “It was costing the town council a huge amount of money every year and that was not really sustainable.
“Because of the complexity of repairs and the way they were integrated into the building, it was always going to be a big job.
“There are times when I thought why don’t we do that, but I personally don’t think that would have been the right thing to do.”
Councillor Jeanette Baker said: “An awful lot is going on behind the scenes. We would love it to be quicker but all these elements have to be right. It is a huge commitment for the community.”
- The Corn Exchange could get a £100,000 windfall from builders to help pay for restorations, if West Oxfordshire District Council decides today to allow developers to build 1,000 new homes in West Witney.
'Lessons learnt' after legal battle
WITNEY councillors have “learnt lessons” from a costly legal battle and are going through “great pains” to ensure it does not happen again.
Witney Town Council was left with a £208,000 bill after losing a High Court battle with a contractor over alleged poor work at Madley Park Hall.
Members of the public questioned councillors about the cost to taxpayers at the annual town meeting on Wednesday night.
Councillor David Harvey said: “We went through every due process. We were advised by lawyers about what the correct procedures were and followed that at every single stage along the way.”
Problems began in 2011 when the council refused to accept the building from Beam Construction due to alleged concerns with the floor.
But a High Court judge ruled against the council.
The total legal bill was £143,000 and then, in August, the council spent £65,000 replacing the floor, along with internal and external doors.