Abingdon Guildhall Project Changes Course

June 26, 2015

Project Guildhall Changes Course
A new Town Council have been voted in during May 2015. As happened four years ago the plans for the Guildhall have changed after the election.

In 2011 the outgoing council had proposed some quick wins to make the modern part of the Guildhall – the Abbey Hall – more usable:

  • Install a bar at the back of the Abbey Hall
  • Improve disability access and toilets
  • soften the look of the hall with designer drapes round the sides
  • modernise the kitchen
  • improve the problematic sound system.

After those quick wins they wanted to take time to consider how to invest the bulk of the £1.2m that had come with the Guildhall.

The incoming 2011 council hired new consultants. The first thing they did was spend money on refurbishing the old part of the building – the part where you might reasonably expect to get grants.

They then developed a new scheme for the Guildhall. It’s main points were:

  • Add a one screen cinema, as a new box construction, at the back
  • Install retractable seating for the Abbey Hall, so that it too could serve as a cinema or theatre, or as a dining or dance floor
  • A stylish new front to the building
  • Better access throughout.

The project was modular so that one part could be developed ahead of the others. However the full scheme failed to win lottery funding, and so the town council looked for investment from cinema operators to try to make the cinema part happen. The tenders came in just before the 2015 election.
Project Guildhall Changes Course

Yesterday’s press release
by the incoming 2015 council has gone for a less ambitious plan.

The three cinema companies that tendered to run the cinema, have not come up with enough money, and the new council does not want to take out a large loan. The tenders would also lead to loss of community space. I gather they thought the scheme was only viable with two screens. And so all three tenders were rejected.

Regarding the cinema, the Town Council will now ask the Leader of the Vale of White Horse to try to attract cinema operators to Abingdon. Hopefully they will ask for this to be into the town centre, and not out of town.

The new 2015 cut down plan, to be designed and built when the Guildhall closes at the end of August, is:

  • Abbey Hall improvements, including installing cinema projector equipment and screen, retractable seating and soundproofing
  • Creation of entry to the modern part of the Guildhall at street level
  • Access improvements across the whole building
  • Improve toilets
  • Replace boiler / heating system and relocate boiler room

The Abbey Hall could then be used as a pop-up cinema, but might also attract the likes of the Abingdon Operatic Society, and Abingdon Drama Club.

The council have also added into the project for a phase 2:

  • Kitchen Improvments
  • Install Wi-Fi and hearing loop in historic rooms
  • New carpeting

Project Guildhall Changes Course

  • Removal of access ramp to the rear so long as satisfactory disabled access and fire stategy agreed

Filed under: Guildhall

39 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. newcomer  |  June 27, 2015 at 9:33 am

    Absolutely brilliant and needed synopsis, backstreeter. You would make an exceptional politician and should be a shoo-in at any election given an electorate in their right mind.

    I could have written parts of the above myself, though without such style, panache, dash and forensic respect for brevity. One quibble … I would have emphasized that a dedicated cinema needs to be in the town centre where it would generate traffic to the benefit of all the businesses in the town. The neglected large retail unit in the precinct is the glaring choice.

    Anyone suggesting a cinema at an ‘out of town’ location, like Fairacres, would, obviously, be working an agenda which is not to the true benefit of the town.

  • 2. Julian  |  June 27, 2015 at 9:34 am

    “Regarding the cinema, the Town Council will now ask the Leader of the Vale of White Horse to try to attract cinema operators to Abingdon. ”
    At last!!! But of course…none of them will be interested as there is another cinema within a 150 mile radius…or 6 hour drive away…and as Abingdons population of over 33,000 people isn’t enough to make it commercially viable….But at least they will get the chance to turn it down. Rather than someone from the TC deciding for them.
    We’ll see….

  • 3. newcomer  |  June 27, 2015 at 9:45 am

    Whoops, forgot to mention.

    Perhaps the cinema companies who quoted for the Guildhall Cinema might be interested in joining forces with the TC to approach Scottish Widows (or whoever) about making use of that vast empty retail unit in Bury Street.

    This could produce a result for everyone.

  • 4. Dave  |  June 27, 2015 at 10:51 am

    As Abingdon on Thames sinks slowly into oblivion, the town council has but one thing on its mind, to throw money at work to be carried out on the Monolithic new guildhall. Can the town council spare some of its valuable time improving the town environment, which might encourage retailers to fill the empty premises in both the precinct, and Bath Street which seems to have become a vehicle parking zone.

  • 5. Daniel  |  June 27, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Don’t worry Dave, the Abingdon BID is going to sort ALL of that.

  • 6. Rachel  |  June 27, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Sort of thankfully, whilst teh successive town councils have done nothing, digital and wireless improvements have made pop up cinema very easy so no-one needs to be building or creating a cinema at all!

    The Abbey Grounds are a perfect arena for many events and outdoor cinema could be one. Many other small towns and large cities show films on a regular basis and if someone in the town council makes it their business to get talking to places where this happens and find out how to make it happen that would be a GOOD THING.

    Councillors, USE THE INTERNET, talk to people who have real experience of these things and NOT your stooges.

  • 7. Iain  |  June 27, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    To clarify a few points Backstreeter has made above:

    The point about two screens is a bit misleading. The operators did indeed all suggest that they would like two screens, but they also all stated that they felt this could be achieved with a slightly different design of the ‘box at the back’.

    The operators did not require losing ‘community space’. I do not understand at all what this means in the council’s press release. Perhaps they think that it was some other community that would be using the cinema? none of the bids suggested that any of the rooms be removed from public use.

    The council’s additions also imply these are new things. They are not, for example how they think the cinema could be built without demolishing the ramp is beyond me. The kitchen has already had quite a bit spent on it and there were allowances in the original costings to cover off redecoartion and repairs in that area. Wifi, audio loop and carpeting were all also covered but were not specifically itemised, and were covered within general allowances for redecoration and fit out.

    To also answer Rachel’s point, the council has not used any stooges around it’s studies on the cinema market. It employed a very experienced and reputable company called mayfield arts (you can look them up on the internet) to advise on the conema market and what was required to run a successful cinema – they key point is it’s not just about having the technical capability to show a film – thats the easy bit – we can all do that at home on our tvs!

  • 8. Steve  |  June 27, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    Can anyone clarify who got to vote on this matter and their professional background? I’m interested to know whether they actually have appropriate experience of evaluating investment options. thanks Steve

  • 9. Daniel  |  June 27, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    Did Mayfield Arts comment on the vicinity of other cinemas being an issue?

  • 10. Captainkaos2  |  June 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    Steve, that’s s very good and relevant question, no doubt you will have seen the umpteen comments by Ian ? Well he was chair of the guildhall committee and as such was driver of this shambles, moreover, despite numerous criticisms from umpteen members of the public that his hair brained scheme was a non starter he carried on spending thousands )£100k plus) regardless, Amazingly, he’s criticised the latest scheme for not going far enough ” a pop up cinema ” that wouldn’t cater for Abingdons needs, yet he’s on record as saying his remit was not to provide Abingdon with a cinema, but to reduce the running costs of the guildhall complex, quite how taking on a loan which would take us rate payers 40 years to repay has any hope of reducing costs is something of an enigma?

  • 11. Iain  |  June 27, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    Steve – the names of the councillors are on the town council website at the link below. Unfortunately it doesnt tell you their professional competence to judge business cases. A few of them have some commercial background, most are retired. Bear in mind nearly half of them have only been councillors for about six weeks and are likley to be still learning the job and how things work.

    Daniel – yes. Their guidance was 20 minutes for smaller/independent cinemas, 40 for larger/multiplex cinemas. Probably slightly different rules for cities but we don’t live in one so i didn’t pursue that. It is also slightly different again for an arts cinema (which before Julian comments was not our proposal), which often actually sit in very close proxity to a mainstream cinema, differentiating by experience and programming. Their report was supposed to be published on the website – i haven’t checked recently to see if it’s still there.

  • 12. Iain  |  June 27, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    …and Steve (the one asking the questions not khaos) – i’d be more than happy to sit down with you and explain exactly why i hold the views i do – or if you are really bored you can look back at some older stream on this site.

    Khaos is correct that I have received repeated criticism from a couple of people, pretty much exclusively here, this is however dwarved by the number of very positive comments and encouragement I received from people when I spoke to them about the scheme, which was both financially sustainble and would have produced a really valuable facility for the town.

  • 13. Daniel  |  June 27, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    Thank you Iain, but then I don’t see how that sits with the development (since rejected) proposed for Botley? Plus…Oxford and Didcot “Multiplex’s” are not 40 minutes apart…

    It would also seem, if Mayfield Arts are to be believed…that Abingdon will NEVER ever get a (decent/proper) cinema?

    I appreciate that you do not know the whys and wherefores of the Mayfield report, I assume, but still…what they seem to say is perplexing; and at odds with previous reports of cinema operators once being interested in the Guildhall…

  • 14. Iain  |  June 27, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    As i said earlier Daniel it’s slightly different for cities and i would imagine Botley would be regarded as part of oxford, and as you said in the event it didnt happen, and they are giving a rule of thumb.

    In terms of the impact for Abingdon, if you are looking at a pure commercial site (and it may be different if someone were to massively subsidise a lease), then i do not believe a commercial operator will set up here. Let’s face it they’ve had 30 years and not done so.

    The opportunity we had with the Guildhall was unusual due to the sunk costs, and it is that which would have made the economics viable as even charging a low rent would have dramatically changed the economic fortunes of the Guildhall. I wish i was free to share the full details of the best offer we received.

  • 15. newcomer  |  June 27, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    Anyone can say anything about whatever if the data is ‘commercially confidential’.

    Has enough time past for the ratepayers to see what the people who developed Oxford Castle wanted to do with The Old Gaol?

    Thought not.

    I guess ‘commercial confidentiality’ is a bit like a Harry Potter invisibility cloak … no one can check what happened/is happening.

  • 16. ppjs  |  June 27, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    Commerecial confidentiality can be abused; of course, it can. However, I would not negotiate in the public arena – and I guess that most people on this list wouldn’t either.

  • 17. newcomer  |  June 27, 2015 at 10:23 pm

    So, ppjs, what’s the statute of limitations after which it’s safe for the guilty parties to be revealed?

    As long as the Chilcot report, which could be ‘forever’ the way things are going, or in the case of the Old Goal could it be shorter?

    I’m really interested as to whether you think the ratepayers of Abingdon should ever be told the truth, or don’t they deserve to know. Don’t quibble, get straight to the point.

  • 18. Captainkaos2  |  June 27, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    Newcomer, your comments re the publics right to know are particularly relevant at this moment in time when the Upper Reaches hotel (owned by the vale) has been quickly vacated and boarded up yet not one councillor or officer will say publicly why? If you count the 20 or so town councillors along with the 36 district councillors suggests that well over 50 councillors who were elected by the people to represent the people know what’s going on there, but not one will enlighten us, come on you lot, the truth will out (. just has it has with the guildhall)

  • 19. ppjs  |  June 28, 2015 at 6:39 am

    Newcomer; when you have agreed the terms. However, please note that I was referring to the process of negotiations, not to the outcome. I absolutely agree that the Chilcott enquiry report should be issued; I also agree that the details of the Old Gaol development are a matter of public information and there is no reason why they should not be out in the open.

    However, my point was different. While terms and conditions are being thrashed out and before anything has been signed, a commercial business has a perfect right to keep its powder dry. Otherwise, its competitors would waltz in and take the business away.

  • 20. Rachel  |  June 28, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    When I said stooges I meant everyone who says that nothing can be done. This has happened with the Old Gaol, the outdoor pool, Bury Street, the Guildhall and the Abbey Gardens.

    This town needs people with vision who aren’t in the pocket of the Masons or work for a quango for a guaranteed salary but have no actual targets to meet.

    Another year rolls around, another election rolls around and it’s like moving deckchairs on the Titanic. I would stand as a councillor but I know I don’t have the patience for sitting in meetings where nothing is done and people spend more time patting each other’s backs than achieving any goals.

    Every month, the Councils need to write three measurable outcomes on a piece of paper and a time scale to achieve them.

    If that were to happen we, as residents would be able to measure progress on certain issues and would be able to see that the council is really actually working for us.

  • 21. Captainkaos2  |  June 28, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Ah Rachel, you little devil, talk like that will get you ostracised ! Not so long ago I suggested Abingdon needed a “visionary dictator” and was almost banished to the tower, as I said in another thread there are 50 or so town and vale councillors and you can’t tell me none of them knows what’s going on with the upper reaches hotel site ? If that is the case then it suggests the whole thing, that’s all and sundry run by council, is in fact run by the officers ? Which then begs the question” why do we bother voting?”

  • 22. Neil Fawcett  |  June 29, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    Picking up that last point first. If a privately owned hotel suddenly closes there is no way any of the local councils will know what the plans are unless or until the owners tell us. Councils have no automatic right to know such things.

    Picking up Steve’s question. What this came down to was a judgment call on whether the Town Council should borrow a significant sum of money and invest in the Guildhall on the basis that a cinema operator would run a cinema and significantly reduce the net running costs as a result.

    Without giving away any details, each of the bidders proposed some variant on that.

    I took the view that the likelihood of the net cost reducing was not reliable enough to commit the Town Council, and ultimately the town’s council tax payers, for me to be able to agree it. As it happens, every other town councillor involved in the discussion agreed.

    One factor i took into account as part of coming to that judgement was that none of the bidders offered to raise the capital for it themselves.

    On Rachel’s point – I think we do need to be more ambitious. I particular I think that Abbey Meadow could be transformed with a reasonable amount of investment, within the resources the Vale has available to it.

  • 23. Hester  |  June 29, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Neil – normally I would agree with your first point, but this is different: although the hotel is privately owned, the site belongs to the Vale so even if you believe they weren’t warned, they should by now have found out what is happening!

    Also, the rumour that has been put around (presumably by the hotel company) is that the closure was because they were refused planning permission for some redevelopment they wanted to do. Now either that is a complete porky ( no such applications have been published) or they are referring to informal pre-application discussions – in which case the Vale should know about them.

    The people of Abingdon are not stupid and they do care what happens to a site of such importance to the town: it is several weeks since the news broke and it is time that someone treated us with respect and told us the truth.

  • 24. davidofLuton  |  June 29, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    I’d repeat: now that the partnership with national cinema chains is defunct, nothing is out to tender and nothing is under negotiation, why is anything at all considered “commercially sensitive”?

  • 25. Iain  |  June 29, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    a jolly good question David

    Coming back for a curry sometime?

  • 26. Julian  |  June 29, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    Jolly good question…deserves a truthful answer from someone who knows ALL the answers on this subject….Iain? Or are you governed by the official secrets act…even though you are not now in any official capacity?

  • 27. Iain  |  June 29, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Unfortunately yes Julian – the deal they turned down is, contrary to what you think, very close to what you and others have been asking for. i would very much like to share the details but I am not permitted to do so.

  • 28. Captainkaos2  |  June 30, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Hold on ! Back the truck up !! How can a supposed deal that was to be in the public interest fall through because it wasn’t in the public interest ( that’s what’s been suggested) remain confidential ? That makes no sense at all, I could understand if it were a two horse race but once past the post, or in this case race abandoned. Surely the public are entitled to know? Just as the intent of the vale re the upper reaches? I was told several months ago that building company was in negotiation with the lease holder of the car park ( which apparently is a separate lease to that of the hotel) if that’s the case then pre planning meetings would have taken place way before the closure notice was given, for me the issue is not so much about the hotel closing nor the probability of the car park being developed, it’s about transparency and accountability of councillors and their officers !

  • 29. Daniel  |  June 30, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    …I feel I’m on the said of Captain….and also somewhat confused by Iain’s last post…

    Can we please be told what deal – so close to what “people” wanted ie a multiplex I assume, has been turned down?

    There is something that Abingdon absolutely excels at….can anyone else tell what it is!?

  • 30. Lyle Lanley  |  July 1, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Nothing like the old, ‘I’d love to tell you but I can’t’.

    Anyway, we’re doing it all wrong, what we we need is a monorail..

  • 31. Iain  |  July 1, 2015 at 9:17 am

    It wasnt a proposal for a multiplex Daniel and I have never suggested that, and I do not believe that to be achievable in Abingdon unless the industry fundamentally changes its business model.

    It was though a proper cinema which would have shown the main blockbusters in a comfortable and affordable environment plus have brought professional live entertainment back to Abingdon (touring comedy shows, live music etc) back to Abingdon, which is, as I said, pretty close to what most people want and a long way from what is being proposed by the council now.

  • 32. Julian  |  July 1, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Iain, and when exactly did you ask “what most people want”…? How many of the 33,000 people did you ask exactly? (Or are you going to quote your half-hearted “survey” which asked “Would you like to see a cinema in Abingdon”…..?)

  • 33. Iain  |  July 1, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    It is irelevant whether people want a multiplex – Abingdon wont get one how ever many times you repeat it Julian.

    If you think differently go for it – you could always get out of your chair and drive it yourself. I won’t be investing my personal time in something which has no chance of happening, but by all means prove me wrong.

    If you are seriously arguing that people in Abingdon would not like a cinema then I’m interested where you get your data to back this up?

    The choice is therefore what is best way of delivering. The options are:
    - pop up solution like Wantage have. This is what the council are suggesting and is unlikely to satisfy many people who wish for a proper cinema
    - specialist arts cinema like the phoenix. This could work commercially in abingdon but I dont think it would satisfy most people’s needs. It also relies heavily of the overall experience which is lacking the the council’s proposal.
    - small, independent cinema spwith 2-3 screens showing a range of films including latest releases. These are common in towns like ours without a cinema but with multiplexes nearby eg Ludlow who’s assembly rooms made me have my initial thought on this, and this is what my plan suggested. We had sensible viable offers from experienced commercial operators to deliver this model and that is what your council has turned down on your behalf. You’ll also be pleased to know that this option would have saved the ratepayer a significant amount of money too even after factoring any loan repayments (payback was very rapid)

  • 34. Captainkaos2  |  July 1, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    I think it high time you abandoned all hope of ever being a councillor again, with the way you’ve openly criticised those who once supported you is quite despicable, so much so I can’t see you ever being selected again, please stop clutching at straws in an effort to substantiate your track record, it speaks for itself !

  • 35. Iain  |  July 1, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    Thanks for your opinion Steve

  • 36. Captainkaos2  |  July 1, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    Ian, you really are making a fool of your self now, take a leaf out of your peers and just keep stum on this sorry debarkel

  • 37. Iain  |  July 1, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    I refer you to my earlier comment

  • 38. Neil Fawcett  |  July 1, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    I will find out whether or not we can now publish details of the bids.

    I would certainly like us to be able to do so, so that local residents have all the facts behind our decision.

  • 39. Iain  |  July 1, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    I fully agree with that Neil

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