(Link to Council Priorities: All)
The Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture introduced the report and reminded Members that in September 2018, initial funding had been made available to enable the Council to evaluate potential options for the Hersham Community Centre and Village Hall, part of which was to develop a strategic document that would include master planning together with stakeholder engagement.
Following the appointment of a professional team, and the creation of a Member Reference Group, a public consultation exercise was undertaken in January 2019. A total of 1,131 responses had been received, with the overwhelming response being in favour of the reopening of the Village Hall for hiring out and general community space. This had been fully supported by the Member Reference Group and, whilst the Group had acknowledged that new homes, including affordable, were essential, they considered that Hersham was due some respite given that the area had already seen several new developments.
The Member Reference Group had met in March 2019 and had discussed three options for the site and after careful consideration had agreed to pursue Option 1. Option 1 would involve undertaking the necessary works required to reopen a statutory compliant hall with a guaranteed life expectancy of at least a further five years. Any enhancements, including the provision of new kitchen and toilet facilities, could be considered as Phase 2 of the project and an application in this regard could be submitted to the Esher and Hersham Local Spending Board for Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funding towards these enhancements, at a future date.
The Portfolio Holder advised that the Member Reference Group had met in June 2019 and had been advised that certain areas within the Hall had not been surveyed due to the lack of utility connections within the building. This included surveying the lifts, electricals, asbestos etc. As the Pick Everard condition survey had only been a visual inspection, a more in-depth survey had been commissioned and undertaken in July 2019.
Members were reminded that in July 2019, the Council had agreed a motion declaring a climate emergency. In this regard, the Member Reference Group took the opportunity to consider again in depth this project to guarantee that a re-opened Village Hall would meet energy Regulations and ensure that the Council was complying with its promise to achieve carbon neutral status by 2030. The Portfolio Holder reported that the Member Reference Group had visited the site in August 2019 whereby the independent survey undertaken by the consultants had been reviewed. This had been subsequently followed by a meeting of the Member Reference Group where it had been unanimously agreed that Option 1 - re-opening the Hall, be pursued with an aim to have it re-opened for public use by Spring 2020.
With regard to funding the refurbishment works, the Portfolio Holder advised that the cost of rectifying the current defects / repairs had been estimated at £650,000 exclusive of VAT. It was proposed that this sum be funded from capital receipts and the ongoing revenue cost, estimated to be £100,000 per annum, would need to be reviewed on an annual basis.
The Portfolio Holder for Resources indicated his support for the refurbishment and re-opening of Hersham Village Hall and commented that the final specification would be better than had originally been expected whereby the entire toilet facilities would be replaced. He considered that by progressing a new build facility on the site would have its risks and given that planning permission would be required together with the process for a new build (design, tenders, build etc.) this could take up to 5 years to complete. Accordingly, he considered that the proposal was the practical way forward and would enable sufficient time to consider the long-term future of the facility.
The Portfolio Holder for Social Affairs concurred with the Portfolio Holder for Resources and commented that she also supported the refurbishment and re-opening of the Hersham Village Hall.
Whilst acknowledging the views of her fellow Cabinet Members, the Portfolio Holder for Environment commented that unfortunately she could not support the recommendations as set out in the report as she considered it was not financially viable to spend £650,000 refurbishing the existing Hersham Village Hall. In addition, given that the Council had declared a climate emergency in July 2019, to refurbish a Council-owned asset that currently had a ‘G’ rating and which following the works would end up at best with a ‘D’ rating, did not in her opinion justify the spending of £650,000.
The Portfolio Holder for Housing, who was also a Hersham Village Ward Councillor, provided Members with a brief summary of the history of the site and in particular the Village Hall. He reminded Members that the Hall had been closed 3 years ago due to health and safety issues. Whilst the Council had agreed to refurbish the Centre for the Community at that time, the decision to close the Village Hall had been made. He updated that the Member Reference Group had agreed to support the refurbishment and re-opening of the Hall and a promise in this regard had been made to the residents of Hersham. He agreed that when the Hall had been open, usage figures had been low. However, he considered that as it was being proposed that the Community Support Services team would undertake the bookings for events / facilities going forward, the re-opened Village Hall would be a great asset for Hersham.
The Portfolio Holder for Social Affairs further commented that whilst she had every sympathy with the views made by the Portfolio Holder for Environment, her main concern was the Hersham Centre for the Community. She advised that it had been suggested that should a comprehensive development be undertaken on the site, a modular building would be provided for use by the Community Support Services team as a Centre. In her opinion, this type of building would not be satisfactory given the services currently provided at the Centre together with the number of daily users. Accordingly, she reiterated her support for the refurbishment and re-opening of the Village Hall.
In response, the Portfolio Holder for Environment recognised how traumatic change could be for the elderly and vulnerable. However, in light of the climate emergency declaration, there was now an opportunity to create a facility that would last longer than the proposed 5-year lifespan of the Village Hall.
The Deputy Leader then invited Councillor Mrs. R. Mitchell, a Hersham Village Ward Councillor, to address the meeting. Councillor Mrs. Mitchell reminded Members that a survey had been undertaken in early 2019 and having received a fantastic response rate, the result was that the residents of Hersham wanted the Hall to be re-opened. Personally, she considered that the views of the residents should be listened to and therefore the Hall should be refurbished and re-opened.
Having considered the report and the comments made, the majority of the Cabinet
(a) the Hersham Village Hall be re-opened and a sum of £650,000 be made available to enable the Hall to be re-opened to the community;
(b) the funding be allocated from capital receipts; and
(c) it be noted that an annual revenue budget allocation would need to be included in the 2020/21 Budget and future years for the maintenance and operating costs of the Village Hall, currently estimated to be £100,000 per annum.