06:07PM, Wednesday 28 April 2021
Councillors have locked horns over the future of Maidenhead Town Hall as questions over its fate returned.
A report for a Windsor and Maidenhead cabinet meeting tomorrow (Thursday) revealed ongoing concerns within the Royal Borough council about the cost of maintaining the building.
Its energy performance is deemed as ‘only just acceptable’ and cannot meet the borough’s climate strategy, it added.
Essential maintenance works to the building fabric totalling £370,150 would need to be carried out over the next five years, the council said, while enhancements to the mechanical and electrical infrastructure is costing on average £70,000 per year.
The future of the town hall is now under consideration with the Conservative council looking at the possibility of creating a new corporate building in the borough.
Councillors are recommended to approve proposals to draw up a business plan investigating the possibility of the creation of this new site.
But an opposition councillor has accused the Tories of making a ‘colossal wrong turn’ and raised fears that this would mean that the town hall would be sold to developers.
The Conservatives have rubbished the claim, saying ‘this is absolutely not the case’ and that the recommendation is to explore all options in detail.
Speculation has grown throughout the week over what lies ahead for the St Ives Road building, which has been at the heart of Maidenhead council business since 1962.
The building was officially opened by the Queen and famously doubled as a hospital in Carry On films, a hit franchise in the 20th century.
Deputy leader of the local independents, Cllr Geoff Hill (TBF, Oldfield), said he was worried that there was more than meets the eye with regards to the recommendation before cabinet.
“What I am accusing the leadership of is the destruction of the civic heart of Maidenhead, taking out one of the borough’s most prestigious buildings," he said.
"If that does not say: 'we are going to sell it', I do not know what does. That is code for ‘we are going to sell this building’.
"You have to sell the old one to buy the new one.
“This is a colossal wrong turn. The explanation we are being given is just a reason to dispose, rebuild and make a profit and takes into no account the civic heart of the Royal Borough. It will be the most awful tragedy for Maidenhead.”
He added: “I suggest the borough does the proper thing and makes appropriate upgrades to the town hall to bring it up to standard so we can keep our civic heart.”
Cllr Hill said that the space could be used for other functions, such as helping small businesses hire cheaper office accommodation.
In response, leader of the council, Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) dismissed his opposition colleagues’ claims.
“What we are doing is exploring all potential options as outlined in the [cabinet] paper,” he said.
“We want to make sure we are getting value for money and are also doing the right thing.
“It may be that we come to the conclusion that actually we will be far better off spending the money on the existing town hall, meeting those sustainability requirements.
“But until we have done that piece of additional work, that is not something I can say tonight, as you would expect.”
Cllr Johnson added that he would be keen for the town hall to remain standing, if the council were to decide that it was no longer fit for purpose.
“We are not that financially busted that we need to start fire sale-ing off our assets,” he said.
“My very strong preference is that that building is retained. If we no longer need it, I would like to see it put into a use that is appropriate for it. But at the moment it is simply too early to have that discussion.
“This paper gives us a green light to proceed to the next stage, which is to explore all options in detail.
"I do understand the sentiment that many Maidonian's have to that building, and its history.
"The key thing for me is, if we are going to spend a significant amount of money retrofitting the existing town hall, I want to be absolutely certain that there was not a better alternative out there that we did not explore.
"I want a real evidence base before I make that decision, and I think people expect that."