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Campaigners to save Altrincham Town Hall share ‘a glimmer of hope’

Campaigners bidding to keep Altrincham Town Hall open for community use may have forced Trafford council bosses planning to ‘dispose’ of the building into a rethink. 

A crunch decision over the future of the 120-year-old building – a popular wedding venue – was due to be taken at the council’s executive meeting on Monday night (February 20).

But emails to council leader Tom Ross were sent shortly before the meeting from Altrincham and Bowdon Civic Society and the community organisation Inch Arts.

The matter was then deferred until next month, without any discussion.

Council officers have recommended that a 25-year lease for the building should be sold to childcare company Juice which currently occupies the next door premises.

The authority argues that the building costs £60,000 a year to run, but the civic society argues they and Inch Arts have not been given sufficient opportunity to submit bids which show they could make running the town hall as a community interest group viable financially.

Treasurer of the society Trevor Stone said: “The council supposedly offered up assistance [with our bids], but they did the bare minimum. It met its legal obligations but didn’t follow the spirit of the process. It was formal stuff.

“The council said if you want to ask questions just call us, and the council responded to us, but never did anything that made us feel they were helping us.

“From the first meeting when we put a bid in August [2022], it was two-and-a-half months before we heard from them.

“It was the middle of November before they came back to us. In an online Teams meeting, they told us ‘We’ll not be proceeding with your proposals’.

“This was still nine months away from the end of the asset of community value deadline that the council put on the town hall.

“What we feel aggrieved about is ‘what was happening in that two-and-a-half month period?

“The council has an obligation to ensure they get the best bids in. We both [the society and Inch Art] accept we didn’t put the best bids in.

He said that the process would [normally] be an expression of interest (EOI) followed by a formal tender. But the society went down the informal route with a second EOI, the same way as the first.

Mr Stone continued: “There’s nothing wrong with the council having a second EOI. We had no idea that that was our best and final bid.

“To me, you put in an EOI, and you expect the council to come back to you, but there was no dialogue.”

Altrincham Town Hall

Green and Liberal Democrat councillors also want the building to be retained for community use stating that it has ‘never been marketed properly’, its website is ‘awful’ and it doesn’t even have wifi.

Coun Michael Welton is leading on the issue for the Greens. He said: “The civic society and the art group have expressed concerns about the way the process has been handled.

“They don’t feel they’ve been given sufficient information so that they can put alternatives forward with the detail the council later said it required [when it was turning down their bids].

“The council rejected their applications on largely financial grounds, but the groups could’ve put more detailed bids in if they had been given the necessary information by the council.”

He went on to say he didn’t think the childcare company had received detailed information about the state of the town hall either.

“They and the council say the negotiations are at an extremely early stage,” said Coun Welton.

“The council needs to keep talking to the community groups. If the commercial deal doesn’t go forward, we are back to square one. The community groups may need support in making an application.

“The council itself in its executive report said they will probably have to pay for some repairs as part of the deal, or give some time rent-free. Both the external fabric of the building and the interior of the building need some work.

“If we are talking about it being a successful venue for weddings and other events, there are more things that could be done. For example, I don’t think there’s any wifi in the building and it could be used for flexible office space. There is a kitchen in there, but it’s got limitations.

“There may be aspects inside that are a bit dated that may be putting people off using it.

“Our position is that the building has never been properly marketed for the events. There needs to be a brochure and a decent website which is currently awful.

“We are getting different messages from the council. One of the senior officers said they’ve done everything they can when they had a real go at marketing it in 2015.”

As reported by the LDRS, a 2,000-name petition was handed in at Trafford’s December council meeting over plans to sell the lease for the building.

And two weeks ago, influential Conservative MP for Altrincham and Sale West Sir Graham Brady – who holds his regular surgeries in the building – backed the campaign to save the town hall for community use.

A spokesperson for Trafford council said: “Over the past few weeks the council has been liaising with various members of the public regarding a bid process linked to the disposal of Altrincham Town Hall.

“We have been providing further information to assist with the understanding of the bid process itself and to explain what steps must now been taken to conclude that process.

“The decision to progress the bid process for Altrincham Town Hall was listed on the executive agenda last night to enable further discussions to commence which would assist in facilitating the disposal before August 2023, in line with asset of community value disposal requirements.

“However, the council received a number of last-minute communications prior to the executive meeting and, whilst we remain wholly confident in the administration of the bid process to date, the leader recognised the importance of ensuring that all communications have been fully considered and the points raised in them addressed before progressing the decision.

“This was simply not possible prior to the executive meeting and as such, the Leader deferred the decision until the next executive meeting.”

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