by Coun Danielle Belton, Chairman of Rayleigh Town Council
I AM delighted to have the opportunity to update residents on local matters relating to Council Business for our Town and District.
I am both Chairman of Rayleigh Town Council, and Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group on Rochford District Council, so well placed to provide important news on issues that affect all of us that live or work in the area.
Most recently Rochford District Councillors have debated the much talked about Asset Delivery Programme (ADP) – a scheme agreed in 2020 to dispose of assets that were surplus to requirement, building a new purpose built, modern and energy efficient community centre, brand new offices for staff and at the same time creating a financial return for the Council.
This originally included the Mill Hall Arts & Events Centre, but this site was later removed from the programme.
Unfortunately, the new Administration, which is made up of 5 separate groups decided to keep the entire ADP report private and confidential, despite fighting a campaign on the basis they would be transparent and make decisions for all of the residents of the District.
Conservative Group Leader, Coun Simon Wootton, challenged this during the meeting stating: “Whilst respecting that some of the report content is commercially sensitive, we strongly disagree with the whole report being dealt with as an exempt item including all of the recommendations.”
Our recommendation fell on deaf ears, so I am unable to provide any insight at this time.
The Mill Hall report however I can share.
The first recommendation was for the primary use of The Mill Hall to be for the Arts & Events sector, our main concern here is that it seems to exclude the community use that has been the main source of bookings since the hall reopened last year.
We are told the community will not be excluded from bookings, but the motion to include the word in the recommendation was unanimously voted against by everyone except Conservative Councillors.
Disappointingly the Café in the Mill Hall, will still not be opening. We were advised that to do so would cost £72,000, but were given absolutely no indication as to where that figure came from or what would be included.
Instead, a recommendation to allow officers to do some “soft market research” was put forward. We challenged this, and asked that at the very least a time frame be given to conclude this exercise within 3 months. Some of the administration spoke against this, but it was ultimately agreed.
The bar will be run by a local company, and be open on nights that there are pre booked events, this is something I and others support and we hope that the company are able to enhance the offering of the hall, I was however left a little uninspired by the negotiations from RDC to ensure that tax payers money is being used appropriately and not to subsidise commercial businesses – something I questioned at the meeting.
There was such debate that the budget for a structural survey was insufficient given the latest news surrounding RAAC, and we asked for this recommendation to be given more consideration to ensure that all bases are covered. We were told in no uncertain terms that the £10,000 Structural Survey budget would include all eventualities – it was only through robust challenge that it transpired that the survey recommended would only look at the roof of the Mill Hall – something the administration has seemingly overlooked within their own report.
Despite this revelation from officers, our motion was voted against. Let’s hope we aren’t having to go back to the drawing board and cheque book in the very near future for further assessments of the building.
The two preferred partners MegaCentre and The Design Cabin, who had worked with RDC to provide solutions to run the venue have been told their services are no longer required by the administration, but with no alternative solution other than to survey at least 2000 people to ask what they want.
My final thought is that the Mill Hall is currently costing taxpayers right across the District in the order of £350,000 per year to subsidise, and the recommendations within the report give little or no reassurance that this figure will be dropping anytime soon.
Are the residents of Rayleigh and further afield happy to keep covering this cost and if so for how long?
The full item can be viewed on the Rochford District Councils You Tube channel.
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