Pressure is increasing on the village to take on the running costs of the Bedford Hall.
Peterborough City Council, which currently owns the building and is responsible for repairs and maintenance, says it can no longer afford the costs.
It wants to either sell the building or transfer ownership and responsibility for its upkeep to the village.
The Bedford Hall and its distinctive tower was built by the Duke of Bedford as part of his model village project. The tower housed a water tank, which provided running water to cottages, and there were workshops and homes in the rest of the building.
In 1981, it was converted to a community hall, under the ownership of the city council with a long lease to a village management committee which looks after day-to-day running and bookings.
The city council has already decided to sell the old community centre and library buildings in Church Street, which is expected to raise £235,000, and has promised that money to fund a new library, provide a grant towards a new sports pavilion and pay for essential repairs to the Bedford Hall.
It has offered the village four options:
- Move the library to the Bedford Hall and transfer the building to the village.
- Move the library to the Duke of Bedford School and transfer the Bedford Hall to the village.
- Sell both the Church Street property and the Bedford Hall and build a new community/sports facility.
- Do nothing – which the council says is not viable due to costs.
A meeting on March 8 of Thorney Parish Council, the current Bedford Hall Management Committee and members of the Thorney Society agreed to ask the council for more detail on cost of repairs.
Council estimates put these at £271,000, plus costs of up to £108,000 to move the library to the Bedford Hall. The meeting was concerned that there were other costs the council was not considering, such as subsidence and damp in the part of the building that houses the museum, also potential problems in the cellars and tower which have not been thoroughly surveyed.
The meeting pointed out that even trusting current council estimates of repairs plus the library move, the sale of Church Street property will not cover those costs. Even without a contribution towards a new sports pavilion, there’s a deficit of £143,000.
Some members of the Bedford Hall Management Committee were keen to take on the building and felt the council’s costs were grossly over-estimated. Nathan Potts thought they could use local village craftsmen and have work done much more cheaply.
“Council figures are nonsense; the building isn’t falling down and we would prefer to spend the money ourselves. If we had control of how it’s spent, where and when, we’d get much better value,” he said.
Other people felt money spent on moving the library would be a waste and questioned whether the village needed a library. Parish councillor Ray Wood said: “For the amount of use the library gets, we should get rid of it. Get a mobile one instead.”
The Thorney Society is committed to keeping the Bedford Hall as a community asset. Chairman, Michael Sly pointed out that the village had a lease on the building until 2079 and therefore didn’t have to do anything.
A letter has been sent to the council asking for more detail of costs and whether land around the building would be included in the transfer.
Since the meeting on March 8 in the village, there was a further meeting on March 29. Kate Harding, Senior Peterborough City Council Officer responsible for Community Asset Transfer, chaired the meeting, which started off with each of those present giving their thoughts on what they would like to see happen.
The preservation of the Bedford Hall complex was top of people’s agenda, but at what cost? John Bartlett, chairman of Thorney Parish Council, said he was opposed to any cost being added to the Parish Precept to fund the Bedford Hall.
It was stated that all the exterior maintenance of the Bedford Hall was Peterborough City Council’s responsibility, and the internal maintenance was the responsibility of the Bedford Hall Management committee.
John Bartlett stated very little if any work had been undertaken by PCC on the Bedford Hall during the last 10 years.
Michael Sly, chairman of The Thorney Society, said the Bedford Hall needs to be run on a more commercial basis, with parts let out to private businesses . The cast iron tank at the top of the tower could be removed (by a tower crane) as this would relieve any stress on the tower’s brickwork. The bar area could be reconfigured so more use of the tower could take place. He also stated the land to the north of the Bedford Hall should be transferred to the new committee. Michael Sly said that within the Thorney area resided villagers with commercial and business skills that could be used for the future of the Bedford Hall Complex. These people have a great deal to offer and must be used.
Jeff Bellamy, chair of the Bedford Hall Management Committee, said the Bedford Hall was used by village organisations most days and evenings of the week, but they only paid a minimum rate. The Bedford Hall is registered for weddings which are popular and a commercial rent is charged but this could be increased. At present the Bedford Hall just managed to balance its accounts.
Cllr Steve Allen, one of three city councillors representing Eye, Thorney and Newborough on the City Council, stated the Bedford Hall was a unique building and must be preserved not just as a community asset but something Peterborough City Council should be proud of and support.
Kate Harding, when asked about the relocation of the Library, said plans to transfer it to the Duke of Bedford Primary School were being looked at bearing in mind the school needs to expand to take in more children. The safe-guarding of children was also raised.
The sale of the library and old Social Centre was mentioned and that money from this sale would be available for community use in Thorney.
It was mentioned that a new pavilion in Thorney Park was urgently required. But concerns were raised about residents living in Tavistock Close not being happy with any development in Thorney Park. These concerns need to be addressed by all parties involved, including Thorney Football Club.
Cllr Irene Walsh, Cabinet Member for Communities, said that the Bedford Hall was a unique building and that it would be treated differently to other Community Centres involved in the asset transfer by Peterborough City Council.
As the meeting drew to a close Kate Harding said it was important that discussions continued. At the next meeting Planning Officers and Education Officers would attend, along with Adrian Chapman, Senior PCC Officer, Responsible for Asset Transfer, who should be able to give more details of possible funding from the Mayor of the Joint Authority for Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.
Photo: © Richard Humphrey