Hopefully, this article isn’t news to you, and the substantial media coverage the planned selling off of the Town Hall has garnered over the last few weeks has already informed you. I’ve spoke about it in the papers, on TV and radio and, of course, all over social media, as have representatives from Beeston and District Heritage Society and others.
It is often the case that when big issues like this come about that a lot of confusion follows: rumours, misinformation etc. It is seldom malice, but more a case of Chinese Whispers, as the story pings around the internet or through general chatter. I helped man a stall in Beeston Town Centre on Saturday, and was surprised by some of the suppositions bandied about. While the vast majority of people I talked to were very much anti disposing of the Town Hall, most had a phalanx of good questions the answers of which might be obvious to me,(who has been working on things like this for years so sees the cogs and wheels), but not so much to someone who hasn’t got that same geekish attraction to civic stuff.
As such, I’ve written the following FAQ (frequently asked questions) to help clarify as much as I can right now; and to show you how YOU can have your say. Information is a vital component to democracy; do not hesitate to get in touch if a question you have remains unanswered here, and myself or a fellow member of the Civic Society will be happy to attempt to answer.
Although I am a committee member of Beeston and District Civic Society, the entirety of this article does not necessarily reflect the exact views of the society, and are expressed in a personal capacity as a resident of Beeston.
WHAT IS BEESTON TOWN HALL?
The building was built on Foster Avenue by the people of Beeston in 1936 as a civic centre to Beeston. It’s a fine building, with some wonderful exterior and interior features, and since the adjacent library was rejuvenated last year, has been seen from a new perspective as the library now opens out onto the area. With the library, the new council offices and the police station It forms a civic centre to the centre of Beeston, on a parade of fine buildings.
WHAT GOES ON THERE?
The building currently has several functions, serving as offices and as a location for council committees and meetings. It has a purpose-built council chamber, reception rooms and more. Civic functions are also held here on occasion.
SO WHY SELL IT?
Money and ideology.
SURELY COUNCILS NEED MONEY THOUGH, SO THAT’S A GOOD THING?
Of course. And if the figures issued by the council are to be believed, the upkeep of the building is considerable, totalling over £100,000 per annum.
WELL IT SEEMS LOGICAL TO SELL IT THEN, DOESN’T IT?
That’s the way the council are portraying it. If the council continues to spend so much money, then that is cash diverted from more pressing needs. However, this argument presents a false dichotomy. This is not a question of ‘this or that’.
The first point to note is that the figures released by the council on the upkeep costs are open to a great deal of scepticism. Not only do they not seem to tally with other figures in the public domain, but they include duplicate and transferable costs: business rates for instance. Staff costs and server costs are also included, those these are costs that will have to be retained even if the Town Hall closes. It seems that an emotive, 6 figure number has almost been plucked out of the air in an attempt to justify this.
The building is an asset to the council, and an either be cashed in once, or made to work to generate income into the future (and still be ours).
SO WHAT WOULD IT ACTUALLY SAVE?
We can only find that out with proper scrutiny, in the form of an impact study. However, the council have not responded to the Civic Society’s call for this to be conducted, which means the savings they set out are utterly pie-in-the-sky. We call on them to conduct an independent assessment.
BUT WHATEVER THE FIGURE, IT STILL COSTS SOMETHING TO RUN, YES?
Of course, buildings do. But the Town Hall serves a purpose and has great potential to recoup costs – and possibly even turn a profit – if used correctly.
TURN A PROFIT??? HOW?
Well, venue hire is an ever-growing market.
BUT YOU CAN’T HIRE THE TOWN HALL? I’VE CERTAINLY NOT HEARD THAT YOU CAN.
You can, but the council have been notoriously keen NOT to promote this. The Hall was once licensed for marriages: I met a couple of pensioners who had done just that many years ago. When I married a few years back, I enquired about marrying there, but found their license had lapsed, so instead had to have the ceremony at Nottingham Council House. With very little effort, the council could make the place available.
That’s just one idea. I’ve heard dozens of brilliant suggestions over the last few weeks, including a fully costed detailed submission from a local retired academic.
SO THE COUNCIL ARE KEEN TO HEAR THESE IDEAS?
Errr….no. The public consultation form that is currently available for residents to complete gives just three options.
- RETENTION: leave the building as it is (where it will be left to decay and then sold off at a later date)
- SELL FOR HOUSING: This sounds ok, as we do have a housing crisis, but would almost certainly mean the demolition of the building as it is purpose-built to be functional as a town hall and would cost more to convert than to start from scratch. Plus, many of the exterior and interior features are worth a lot of money on the open market, so would be too attractive to retain.
- DEMOLITION AND SELLING OFF TO A DEVELOPER: This is almost certainly the favoured choice for the council, as it means getting a quick buck and having the building off their hands as soon as possible.
UMMM.. THAT LOOKS VERY MUCH LIKE A POORLY WRITTEN, LEADING QUESTION CONSULTATION.
Indeed. The way it is worded, and the way the council are refusing to extend the consultation plan despite the Civic Society requesting as such (conducting a consultation over Christmas, when the populace is less likely to notice it in the haze of Quality Street and turkey dinners- see also Network Rail last year) suggests that the administration is keen not to consult, but close down any objection.
BUT AREN’T WE A CONSERVATIVE LED COUNCIL? SURELY ‘CONSERVATIVE’ MEANS RETAINING OUR SHARED HERITAGE?
While I am sure many Conservatives do think that way, and for that they deserve our credit, the leader of Broxtowe, Cllr. Richard Jackson takes a much different ideological view. Paradoxically, he does not believe that the council he leads should exist at all, having voted for the abolition of Broxtowe at County level, where he is also a councillor. To suggest that abolishing a council and absorbing the responsibilities into the County would be financially beneficial ( Broxtowe Councillors receive a relatively small expenses payment for their role, while County councillors receive a significant sum that would no doubt be boosted by extra responsibilities) is perhaps unfair: this is more about Cllr. Jackson’s philosophy that a council should do as little as possible. After his plans to abolish Broxtowe were thwarted at County level, he’s doing the next best thing: selling off the council incrementally. The council will thus receive a bump in their budgets through selling off the Hall, but once it is sold, it is gone forever.
We propose that the building is retained and invested in so it becomes sustainable, so future generations can enjoy it and feel that they have some stake in their town, as our predecessors in the 1930’s so wished.
IS IT EVEN THEIRS TO SELL?
A moot point. Broxtowe absorbed the building when it came into being in 1974, but it will require scrutiny on the legalities of their responsibilities of property from the Beeston and Stapleford Urban District, Broxtowe’s predecessor. Only a proper impact assessment can determine this.
Not a single councillor mentioned that they wanted to sell the Town Hall in their 2015 election materials. This is utterly without mandate.
CAN ANYTHING BE DONE?
Yes it can, but you have to do it, and do it now.
- Fill in the consultation form online: it takes five minutes. We recommend ticking ‘none of the above’ and putting your suggestions on usage in the space provided.
- Sign the petition. We have had a staggering response to this so far and will be presenting it to the council soon, but still ensure your name is on it.
- Write to councillors: first, your own, then members of the committee who will determine this decision. These can be found in full below. Be reasonable and polite in your correspondence.
- Write to the MP: Although she is for selling it off (see below) she is obliged to listen to you at the very least. Again, please be reasoned and polite when doing so: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tell people about this: not everyone is on the internet or has noticed this, so ensure friends and neighbours, or even random passers-by, are informed. Feel free to print this off and distribute if you so wish.
- Attend the council meeting where this will be discussed. The council meeting where the matter will be discussed will be held in the Town Hall at 7pm on the 31st January: it is here that the petition will be handed to the mayor and a representation given. Please attend -and see the Town Hall at the same time!
WHO IS ON OUR SIDE?
We’ve even been surprised by the response: several hundred consultation forms have been returned to the council already, and the petition has 2070 signatures online and many more over other locations.
- SIR NEIL COSSENS: The retired head of English Heritage has come out to support the campaign, and has written to the council expressing his dismay at the plans.
- PROFESSOR SIR MARTYN POLIAKOFF: As well as being a global scientific sensation, Martyn is also very proud of where he lives and frequently engages in civic matters.
- BEESTON AND DISTRICT LOCAL HISTORY SOCIETY: The venerable local historians do a wonderful job showing Beeston’s rich past history.
- DR PETER ROBINSON: The brilliant mind behind Beeston’s (and beyond!) Blue Plaque project is very much against the sell-off, and has accordingly sent representations to council.
- STEWART CRAVEN: Over a decade ago, Stewart looked at the canalside cottages by Beeeston Weir and saw a potential no one else could. Gumption, hard-work and belief saw this vision made real when the cottages opened as the Canalside Heritage Centre last year. Such an addition shows how we can be innovative with our heritage, and build something for all of us to share.
- THE BEESTONIAN: Well, of course.
- POSSIBLY, BROXTOWE COUNCILLORS: Steve Carr (Lib Dem) has stated his opposition, and we’ve heard rumours of discord within the Conservative group about the proposals. Labour, as far as I am aware, have not set down an official line which is rather disappointing. If this changes, I will willingly amend.
WHO ARE WE UP AGAINST?
- CLLR RICHARD JACKSON: The brainchild behind this, the aforementioned Jackson is a vigorous asset-stripper and a staunch opponent of public ownership.
- ANNA SOUBRY MP: We can perhaps forgive Soubry’s lack of civic affinity to Beeston as she lives in the rather more genteel bucolic fields of Charnwood, Leicestershire, but she has stated that she supports Cllr Jackson and wants the building disposed of. She claims that she doesn’t support demolition, but as explained above that would be the most likely outcome of any sale.
- DEVELOPERS: While the council have struggled to find a developer for the Square Phase 2 (despite numerous promises that a deal is ‘nearly done’, huge amounts of public money have so far failed to get anything certain), the location of the Town Hall is hugely attractive to developers, prime land that could be used for high-end housing, or simply for land banking.
CAN WE DO THIS? OR HAVE THEY MADE THEIR MIND UP ALREADY?
We can, and with determination, we will. Last year, Network Rail were shocked by the level of opposition to their plans to close access across the tracks to Attenborough Nature Reserve and put the plans on ice for the foreseeable future. We can do this, if we do this together.
Currently not being made available: we will explain more when we find out why.
LIST OF RELEVANT COUNCILLORS TO EMAIL / WRITE TO: