Special Town Council Meeting

January 8, 2018

Christmas trees
A Special Town Council has been requested by the electors of Abingdon-on-Thames and will be held on Monday 15th January 2018. This is to discuss the Guildhall.

Filed under: Guildhall

22 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. BykerRode  |  January 8, 2018 at 11:47 pm

    Save our Guildhall

    A couple of web links to checkout



  • 2. davidofLuton  |  January 9, 2018 at 6:09 pm

    In the words of the Kaiser Chiefs:

    “I predict a riot; I predict a riot.”

    Or at least the Abingdon version, which is a slightly raised eyebrow and a sharp “tut tut.”

  • 3. Deedee  |  January 9, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    Confused dot com springs to mind? Looking closely at this announcement it appears to be made by the mayor and not the town council? The mayor is a lib//dem councillor, the the TC are majorly Tory, seems more like an evening of let’s kick the town council, no doubt aided and abetted by councillor Littlejohn who has already been a very vocal TC basher,
    So the question is “given there’s no guarantee anyone from the TC will be present? What’s the point of the meeting? Can’t see it achieving anything?
    It is however a good initiative by the mayor, if not with an ulterior motive? Why doesn’t she call for a public meeting on the subject of CH wanting to renege on their Old Gaol payments (which by the way has disappeared from the cakes planning portal) or how about a public meeting on the Upper Reaches? Or old Abbey House?
    Should be a lively meeting though ?

  • 4. Hester  |  January 9, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    Deedee – the meeting was called not because the Mayor decided to, but because, as is their right, a certain number of electors formally called for it. (This was after nearly 2000 people signed a petition about the Abbey Hall and Guildhall). The Mayor chairs all Town Council meetings and is required to chair a Parish Meeting. Other Councillors may choose to attend but are not required to. It is an opportunity for townspeople to express their views – the meeting’s decisions are not binding, but one would hope that if it is well-attended they should at least influence the Council.
    Re your other points, none of the Old Gaol, Old Abbey House or the Upper Reaches are in the Town Council’s remit. It is the Vale who need to be held to account on those.
    PS I like the idea of a “cake planning portal”!

  • 5. Deedee  |  January 9, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    Excuse Typo Hester, finger nails impeaded, complicated isn’t it? But given the council took no notice of the recently collected petition on the subject there’s little chance of this meeting being influential is there?

  • 6. Iain  |  January 9, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    Just to reinforce Hester’s post, this meeting is a good chance for people to show their feelings to the Council on this issue of the Guildhall. DeeDee is absolutely right that they may choose not to listen, however most of the Councillors are keen to do the best for the town and will want to hear what the public think. After all we do elect them.

    Just to address DeeDee’s other point, I profoundly disagree with the Town Council’s current policy on the Guildhall, and will continue to be vocal on this subject. However, I have nothing against the Town Council per se. I admire the fact that councillors give up their time for free to try and improve things for the public, and I count a number of them amongst my friends. I dont think I’ve ‘bashed’ them on anything apart from the Guildhall (and that embarrassing debacle on the rainbow flag).

  • 7. Janet  |  January 10, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    The residents of Abingdon think it is a disgrace that Abingdon is one of the only towns in Oxfordshire that does not have a central hall for local events and groups. A substantial amount has been given to consultants and like many other projects in Abingdon it was an intelletual exercise with no outcome or action. (It seems like people like to sit on committees that serve no purpose). We would like to know what the policies are of the Town Council and the Lib Dems as no statement or position has been made known to residents.

  • 8. Deedee  |  January 10, 2018 at 6:25 pm

    I agree with you on this Janet, especially your reference to having spent thousands on consultants on an intellectual excercice of no consequence, but correct me if I’m wrong (Hester advise please) but wasn’t it councillor Ian Littlejohn who was responsible for spending the huge sums on consultants which resulted in a truly botched one size fits all planned facility that was obviously rejected by council and who now has set about not only to discredit council and all its doings but is instrumental in Unicorn cinema?

  • 9. ppjs  |  January 10, 2018 at 7:46 pm

    Deedee: Iain spells his name I-a-i-n. While we are not in a spelling class, I do think it is kinder to use the correct spelling for people’s names.

    And should Hester answer for Iain? Since Iain has already commented in this thread, a direct question to him would mean that you would get a direct answer.

  • 10. Deedee  |  January 10, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    Hi PPJS, thank you for correcting my spelling error, I had no idea that the “Ian” I referred to that should have been spelt “Iain” was one of the same? Taking your suggestion that my question should be directed to Ian/Iain and not Hester, I will.
    Iain are you the person responsible for committing thousands of pounds of public money on a project that was 1, so far out that it was committing a community asset, once known for catering for all our community needs, to one of your own folly, I e, a cinema? and 2 because you spent so much of the available funds designated to bring the building into the 21st century on consultants and folly there is now insufficient funds left to do anything worthwhile with the building?
    I’m really confused by all this all the stakeholders seem to be at polar opposites?

  • 11. Iain  |  January 11, 2018 at 8:42 am

    DeeDee – I am the same person you are referring to (and thank you for correcting my name) but I do not agree with the assumptions contained within your statements. I’ve posted fairly extensively on this matters to try and set out the history of the current Guildhall position, but here goes again:

    1. The GH was transferred from the Vale DC to ATC in 2011 with a dowry of £1.2m. This was done before I joined the Council.
    2. Approx £150k was spent on a refurb of the historic rooms in 2011
    3. The rest of the £1.2m remained at the point I left the council, and I believe the bulk of this still remains, so the ability to improve the existing facility is unchanged
    4. The expenditure on the project which included a cinema was approximately £75k when I left, of which approx a third was related to business operations, a third engineering type surveys and a third architectural. This was predominantly funded through the Guildhall’s operational budget so didnt materially affect the capital funds
    5. The proposal I was championing included both a cinema and community use so I dont agree that it prevented catering for community needs
    6. Nor do I accept the cinema idea is a folly. There is a clear demand for this in our community and it could and would bring a much broader cross section of the community into the building. The current council (after I left) sadly decided not to continue with these plans. They have cited economic viability and community use as the reason for this. I saw the economic position before I left and the plans were certainly viable and I am still astounded they rejected an offer which would have transformed the finances of the Guildhall. Even if they disliked the exact composition of the deal it would have been easy to have adjusted the precise terms. Sadly the council have not published this data so the public cannot see the proposal. The community use argument is a joke given the facility has been closed for the last 2 years.
    7. You could argue some of the monies I spent were wasted, given they rejected the plans, but I would argue it is the decision to change plans (all the monies spent on my watch had cross-party council approval) that has wasted money. I have no real detail on what has been spent subsequently but that really was a white elephant and has unsurprisingly been deemed unaffordable.
    8. You are correct, that I have continued to work on the cinema and have encouraged and supported a cinema operator in coming to Abingdon. They have a pilot running at the Unicorn which is going well and continue to look for a permanent home. The Abbey Hall remains an excellent potential site, at least as a temporary home while ATC decide what they want to do with the building.
    9. As I mentioned earlier I am opposed to the Council’s current position on the Guildhall. The building was closed to ready the site for building works, which has not materialised after over two years, it should be reopened and returned to the community immediately. I (with others) kicked off a petition opposing the Council’s position which has been signed by 1700 people on line and several hunded in hard copy.

    As with all these sort of matters, the detail is far more complex than can be easily summarised in a post (and I apologise for the length of this one), and much mis-information is in the ether (some accidental and some intentionally misleading). I don’t think we’ve met, but I am always happy to meet with interested people to discuss this matter if you would like to understand more.

    I hope this helps.

  • 12. Julian  |  January 11, 2018 at 9:42 am

    Iain, A few of us did meet with you in the very early days to discuss this. We fairly unanimously told you that this was a white elephant and a vanity project, and that it could not work in the way that you envisioned, and would only drain more money.. I am not sure where you get ” The expenditure on the project which included a cinema was approximately £75k”, I am sure that this was up to around £100k with all of the consultants that you brought in, without a single piece off work being carried out!
    As for the petition, I am not sure if this was worded the same as the original “survey”, (which I recall being asked by Sandy Lovatt, outside Tesco’s), “Would you like to see a cinema in Abingdon” To which I replied “Yes of course”, and then later found that I had “voted in favour” of the Guildhall folly!
    The newer part of the Guildhall is a monstrosity, all on different levels, which means that for any sort of disabled access a fortune needs to be spent on it, the acoustics are unworkable, unless again a small fortune is spent, and for a cinema, it is in the totally wrong location for the town! It will not bring any more footfall into the town centre itself, it would not be big enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to see the latest blockbuster.
    As we told you at our meeting, if you want to get behind something that is worthwhile, then campaign for a cinema/leisure complex actually IN the precinct, (and with Scottish Widows/Angus Management reneging on their deal to modernise the Charter area then this should be taken back from them and utilised!), maybe set up a crowd-funding target to build a complex that would actually bring footfall INTO the town! All credit to you, you have got a cinema operator on-board at the Unicorn (again a totally inadequate building for a town with a population of 33,000 and expanding rapidly!, which would be fine if we were a small village), which is good but not good enough, now please talk to them and get them to see that there is merit in setting up a cinema which a town the size of Abingdon deserves, in a location which would benefit the traders?
    Maybe the BID should use some of their excess cash that they have taken to put towards it? After all, apart from the bunting they have not spent it on a lot else?
    So with crowd-funding, BID, the cinema operator, maybe a public appeal, Traders support, (Maybe some money back from the VALE???? from the sale of our assets!), we could, if it was coordinated, make this happen!

  • 13. newcomer  |  January 11, 2018 at 10:39 am

    Like Julian, I was there near the beginning of the Guildhall fiasco and I agree with his account.

    It’s a shame that Iain has decided to be a tad revisionary in his interpretation of the past as I’ve been rather admiring of his efforts in making the Unicorn project come to life, especially as it doesn’t involve the larding on of large amounts of taxpayers’ cash. I felt he was carving out a role for himself as a kinda Home Counties Che Guevara, or … perhaps not ;0)

    Would it be too much to hope that the Councils might try to rebuild some credibility by kicking Cranbourne Homes plea for rescheduling into touch? I’d really like some show of competence on their parts to cheer up these dark days of winter.

  • 14. Iain  |  January 11, 2018 at 11:29 am

    not revisionist at all. I agree it has probably gone well past £100k now but was about £75k when I left (+/- £10k my memory isnt infallible). The decision for no work to be carried out was absolutely not mine, as I’ve been very clear above. I stand by the comments I have made.

    Julian – I understand that you think Abingdon ‘deserves’ a multi-plex. As I have repeatedly told you I reached out to the multiplex operators (there are only three) and they are not interested in locating here. Feel free to give them a go, maybe you’ll have more success. I remember Steve K posted here a few years ago that he had also had a go and got the same sort of reply.

    Chains of smaller cinemas or independent operators (like the one we are working with at the Unicorn) are indeed keen on operating in Abingdon and would set up a 3/4 screen cinema here at the drop of a hat, the challenge is in getting a suitable site. The Guildhall would have been one such site (not a folly – some very grown up operators including the biggest of the chains put in serious bids) and the Charter is realistically the only other likely option at the moment, although maybe something else will come along, perhaps in the precinct as you suggest.

    The unicorn is a pilot scheme, not the final plan, and the operator would love to have a proper 3 screen permanent site in the town, and is actively working on this. However these look like taking a while to come to fruition, so we thought it would be good to get something going at the Unicorn in the interim. So far it seems pretty popular, but it should be viewed as a step on the journey not a final destination. Do keep on supporting it as its definitely the best way to get something more permanent in Abingdon by showing the councillors there is a real demand.

    Julian and Bill, I know it is a long time since we’ve spoken without the limitations of a blogpost on this, but maybe it’s time for us to have a beer and we can discuss how to make it happen rather than mudslinging. We’re not nearly as far apart on this as you think. The difference is I am having to deal with the realities of getting stuff done in this town, not the way we would like it to be.

  • 15. Deedee  |  January 11, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    With regard to Newcomers comments on CH I wasn’t here at the time but I remember hearing how much of the Old Gaol deal was conducted in secret? Looking at the councils planning web site I see that C H’ s application to vary their payment obligations has disappeared? Does this
    Mean they’ve bowed to public pressure and withdrawn it or has another deal been conducted in private?

  • 16. hester  |  January 11, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    The meeting next week is about the Abbey Hall (and the rest of the Guildhall) not about whether or not the cinema proposal of a few years ago should be resurrected! Nearly 2000 people have signed a petition asking for the Abbey Hall to be re-opened for community use and this meeting should give some of them the opportunity to air their views and ask questions. I am sure that its potential as a cinema (wheher full or part-time, short or long-term) will come up, but hopefully other ideas will also be put forward so the Town Council know what people DO want in there, as that is the only way it will be successful.

  • 17. newcomer  |  January 11, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Absolutely, Hester … the building needs to accommodate the activities which people want to DO in the building. There’s no point in spending money on internal facilities until it’s known what internal facilities will be needed.

    Unfortunately, there’s a lot less money than there was a few years ago so options are now more restricted. What isn’t needed is a Tower of Babel situation where different interests are competing to spend the money that’s left several times over.

  • 18. Daniel  |  January 11, 2018 at 5:21 pm

    How about contacting some “promoters” of whatever events do well in large sized towns – I have no idea, but say comedy, drama, live music….whatever. Ask THEM what they need in order to have their ‘act’ here….and then look to provide the type of venue that’s fit for purpose?

    If you want, you could always sirens a few thousand pounds asking a consultant to come up with some ideas I suppose.

    Personally, it’s a very central space, and I’ve always thought it’d make nice flats – lovely views of the flowers!

  • 19. newcomer  |  January 11, 2018 at 6:27 pm

    Daniel, my original idea was to contact promoters and agents of all kinds of acts/events (covering a broad demographic) in Southern English halls and invite them to the Guildhall to ask them what needed to be done to the place to make the hall an interesting addition to their touring circuit. Unlike the TC these people make a living out of doing this stuff and know how to do it..

    Initially, only some desk/telephone research would have to be done (local sixth-formers, summer work experience) and we’d have had a good indication of what would attract people to the venue, and what facilities had to be created/improved before we started spending money on builders, architects and consultants.

    Of course, now a large chunk of the dosh has been blown the options are curtailed.

  • 20. Iain  |  January 11, 2018 at 7:06 pm

    Just for your jnterest Daniel, the people who are running the cinema in the Unicorn run live events as part of their programme Evesham. To give you a flavour the current programme includes Ed Byrne, Andy Hamilton, Ruby Turner, Reginald D Hunter and several tribute acts.

    Bill, they still have the £1m in the bank so dont peddle your myth that all the money has been spent. Having said that, the Council’s current plans are likely to spend most if not all of that on the old buildings (lift, toilets, kitchen refurb, etc)

  • 21. Daniel  |  January 11, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    Indeed newcomer….one would think it’s a “free” no brainer to see what the market is and then surging upon the outcome of that free research….where or how the money could be spent to cater for an established and wrong market.

    Unfortunately, if it isn’t research done by professionals, at a professional rate. – but with zero accountability for when or if they get it wrong…then no one’s interested. It’s easier to just surf the cash on consultants I guess.

    Iain, thank you….and how interesting. It sounds like there’s a market to be tapped into….if only we had a venue that can cater for a community of 35000 people…..

  • 22. Chris  |  January 14, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    myself and my partner came to the meeting at the Guildhall, where the original proposals were made to make better use of the venue and to bring in revenue.
    We felt then and still do that it was a waste of time and money paying consultants for what was apparently obvious to anyone with eyes to see. Abingdon does not need a multi-screen cinema, Oxford and Didcot have these, Abingdon needs a one or maybe two screen cinema showing a mixture of commercial and art films. You would find out from attendances and feedback what your market is.

    We are really pleased the trial cinema is on at the Unicorn. The proposal for the cinema at the Guildhall was a non-starter. The plans showed a monstrosity of an oblong box would need to be added – something to do with acoustics or sound proofing? This building though dated did not need that added to it. We felt then and still do that a cinema at the Guildhall would not work. Not sure where it could go but the Unicorn is a good start. Abingdon does not need a multiplex. People will travel to Didcot or Oxford for a night out, rather than stay in Abingdon, plus where would it go and surely acquiring land and building would be prohibitively expensive. What we feel would be a better idea would be something along the lines of Cornerstones in Didcot – why not see if local groups could show art work, reading groups. Could we hold an Artweek iin the guild hall? It’s a multi functions venue, so use it as one.

    We have attended other events in the past organised by Mostly Books which were FULL and very enjoyable i.e. Griff Rhys Jones promoting his tv series and accompanying book on Rivers. Arthur Smith came to the guildhall, The American author Sarah Paretsy to do a book signing. More of this should have been encouraged. Also, as mentioned community groups should be able and encouraged to make use of the rooms and facilities. It might be that not much can be done to the outside of the building and maybe it can be embraced as an example of 1960s architecture?

    From memory, out of the options finally proposed the one went for was just a cosmetic overhaul. We do not claim to have all the answers, these are just our feelings and observations.

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