Only carry out necessary work

Almonry Gardens, Battle. SUS-160311-103152001
Almonry Gardens, Battle. SUS-160311-103152001

From: Peter Mills, Kingsdale Close, Battle

May I steal a few column inches from those who normally fill these pages on the subject of Brexit, to draw attention to a significant local issue which is at risk of slipping under the radar?

A few weeks ago your paper reported that Battle Town Council has applied for a £600,000 loan to help repair the Grade II Almonry building. It is true that the council has given priority to other spending and allowed a backlog of repairs to accumulate. It also wishes to carry out improvements to the building in order to make it a more pleasant place in which to work.

However, having failed to implement a programme to carry out this work from its annual income (our Council Tax) it has now decided to greatly expand its plans by including major alterations to the interior of the building and add an extension.

The justification for this additional work is the wish to provide a Heritage Education and Tourist Centre. By including these items the council felt confident that it could persuade the Heritage Lottery Fund to cover the cost of the whole project, including the backlog of repairs. Unsurprisingly, the Lottery Fund was not seduced by this attempt to make the project more attractive and the application was refused.

Despite this, the council seemed determined to press on and resolved to cover the full cost of £600,000 by applying for a 50-year loan.

Total repayments of over £1m would therefore be added to the precept (the council’s share of the Council Tax) which has already increased by 70 per cent in recent years.

Numerous objections to this were raised, not least on the grounds that the provision of Education and Tourist Centres is outside the Council’s statutory duties and will have little, if any, benefit to the local community who will be paying for them via the precept.

The Almonry currently serves its purpose as offices perfectly well and generates income from tenants.

The council should therefore abandon its grand plan and return to a more focussed project to protect the historic fabric of the building and carry out whatever limited improvements are necessary to make it a safe and comfortable place to work.

Carefully planned and programmed this could be achieved without the need for this, and future generations, having to service such an enormous debt.

These restricted proposals were put to the council at its recent meeting. Whilst they were not accepted, the council made a commitment that no further action will be taken until the whole project is reviewed at the Parish Assembly which takes place on April 23 in the Memorial Hall.

A similar response was given to a question about the cost of demolishing the pavilion at the recreation ground in North Trade Road and the wisdom of replacing it with one which will include a café.

So, if you wish to take part in the debate about these projects please come to the Parish Assembly.

Remember too that this will be an opportunity to raise questions on other matters which may be relevant to how you might vote in the forthcoming Town Council elections in early May.