NEW MILTON Town Council is set to double its cash contribution towards multi-million-pound plans to transform the memorial centre into a thriving hub.
A working party, comprising councillors and members of the Whitefield Road facility’s committee, has been discussing forming a joint charitable trust to help bring about an expansion of the building to create a central venue for educational, recreational and social benefit.
This would involve merging the centre’s land with an adjoining council-owned plot containing the indoor bowls club, and the north-east side of the recreation ground.
A wide range of facilities could be incorporated in addition to those in the existing building, including a cinema, provision for arts and community activities and events, and a café. The intention is for the facility to become a cultural and community hub.
But the town council’s amenities committee was told an extra £5,000 was needed on top of the £5,000 it had already been asked to donate. Half of this is expected to cover legal fees, while the other half will pay for workshops and community engagement on the plans.
Cllr Alan O’ Sullivan, the town council’s chief representative on the working party, said it recently had a positive meeting on how the two bodies wanted to move forward.
“We will have an equal amount of trustees on the commission,” he said. “We want to have various workshops and get views from the public.”
Referring to an early artist’s impression, showing how the expanded facility could look, Cllr O’Sullivan stressed this was “one view” and a different design may be wanted.
As reported in the A&T, this drawing depicted an extension that could open out onto the north-east side of the recreation ground.
It was presented to an enthusiastic crowd of residents at a special public meeting in May 2016, with a development cost of up to £6.6m quoted at the time.
“We need to get experts in to help us, to get the views and tease out the right design,” Cllr O’Sullivan told the amenities meeting.
“We ask for another £5,000 to get the project off the ground.”
Committee chairman Cllr Geoffrey Blunden stressed it was important to obtain “seed funding” at this stage to ensure the legal proceedings can be carried out smoothly.
Although agreeing the overall project was “basically a good idea”, Cllr David Hawkins expressed concerns that the town council seemed to be contributing more financially than its partners, the memorial centre committee.
“If this is a marriage between the two, then it seems a very uneven marriage,” he commented.
“If we’re going to step forward, this should be a joint venture. There should be joint funding from both sides.”
But, in response to this, Cllr Blunden pointed out the memorial centre’s funds were currently very limited.
Cllr O’Sullivan also emphasised that taxpayers would not foot the bill for the extra £5,000 requested as it would come out of the town council’s community infrastructure levy and not its precept. He argued this was appropriate as the fund is “money that has been collected locally to be used locally”.
Cllr Hawkins replied that he knew what CIL funds were for but argued there were many other local worthy causes they should go towards.
The meeting came out of session to hear from Clive Rigden, chairman of the trustees for the memorial centre, who sympathised with Cllr Hawkins’ reservations but backed up Cllr Blunden’s comments.
“This is a marriage, I agree, and it may be a somewhat unequal marriage in some respects,” Mr Rigden said.
“But we have an existing hall that we are trying to keep running. This town of nearly 28,000 people needs this type of facility.
“My precious little pot of money – we’re talking hundreds, maybe a couple of thousand – is going towards keeping the roof on, the drains clean and repairing the car park.”
Other amenities members spoke out in support of providing extra funding towards the project.
Cllr Valya Schooling said: “There can be no other project more important than a new cultural and community centre for all generations to come together.
“Let’s stop dilly-dallying and just get on with it.”
Members agreed by a majority vote to recommend the full town council approve handing over a total of £10,000 from the CIL pot. Cllr Hawkins voted against.