Great Coates residents carry on fight to stop £300,000 loan for village hall
CONTROVERSIAL plans to take out a £300,000 loan to build a new village hall in Great Coates dominated a second public meeting this week.
Residents attended the annual parish meeting on Thursday to share their views on the council's "undemocratic" decision to take out a loan for a new hall – despite two polls revealing they are vehemently against it.
The topic had also been explored in detail at Great Coates Parish Council's monthly meeting at Great Coates Nursery on Tuesday evening, as reported.
Reading from the council's annual report at the latest meeting, vice-chairman Bob Emmerson said: "The results of the polls were advisory only and not lawfully binding.
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"The village council noted the results but did not wish to rescind its decision to provide a new-build village hall and so proceeded with the project."
However, Mr Emmerson said he will pay a visit to the dilapidated Reading Rooms – which residents believe could be converted into a village hall at a lower cost than building a new one from scratch.
He said: "I think converting the Reading Rooms is a commendable aim and I am looking forward to seeing inside."
Parish clerk Kathy Nunn explained to the meeting how the council had attempted to buy the Reading Rooms from owners Sutton Estates in the past but had failed.
She said Sutton Estates then applied for planning permission to convert the Reading Rooms into a dwelling but was told it could only do so if an alternative site for a community facility was found.
This was when the site at Pear Tree Paddock was gifted to the village for the creation of a new village hall for a "peppercorn" annual rent.
Neil Wherrett, of Great Coates Residents' Association (Grass), said the Reading Rooms conversion could become a community project, with residents contributing their skills to get the work done.
He added: "If the Reading Rooms was a viable option it would bring the village back together.
"There are people who are skilled who could help transform the Reading Rooms. If we could bring the £300,000 loan down to £150,000 then I would say we should go ahead.
"But if the council goes ahead with the £300,000 loan then it is the people who steamrolled it through without listening to residents who will be held responsible."
Ex-councillor Danny Prest said residents are so against the £300,000 loan because of the increased precept they will have to pay for the next 50 years.
He said: "It is unacceptable to expect people to pay for a loan like this in what is a time of hardship.
"Many people are on a limited income, such as a pension, and I don't think they could just take the extra payment in their stride."
One resident, who did not wish to be named, added: "This issue has shattered the village and I think we all need to take a step back and forget about it for the time being while we work out what we all want.
"The Reading Rooms were always very dark because of the wood panelling but they could easily be lightened up.
"It was larger than people thought inside and could accommodate 120 people seated so it would be big enough."