11 residents had requested a special Parish meeting to discuss the Guildhall, and the meeting took place this evening at the Roysse Room. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the usage of the much larger Abbey Hall, the only civic space in Abingdon large enough to hold such public meetings, and to discuss accessibility plans for the older part of the Guildhall.
The large Abbey Hall has been closed for about three years. It was initially closed while the Town Council considered tenders for its redevelopment. The assumption was that the redevelopment would go ahead that year. However an election happened at that point, and the council membership changed. We heard for the first time this evening that one tender came in at £3m and another $4m. And so the Town Council looked at ways to reduce the scope of the project, and the Abbey Hall remained closed while that happened. There followed another round of consultants and architects and planning under a new Guildhall Chairman.
The council then gave up on that plan, about the time the Town Council leader changed. It cost an annual subsidy of £200k to keep the Guildhall complex open. They than began speaking to Oxfordshire County Council about putting the Abbey Hall into the review of County Council public places, and now expect something exciting to come out of that review for Abingdon.
So the town council are now concentrating on the older part of the building, and using the £1.2m legacy, given by the District Council with the Guildhall, on just the old rooms.
This evening the Roysse room was not large enough for the number of people who came.
About 60 people were not allowed in. That included some of the 11 who had requested the meeting.
So there will be a second meeting next Monday for anybody who could not get in.
During the meeting, The Mayor, Councillor Jan Morter, read out a release from the Town Council, prepared for the meeting, that you can read here. She then added that Evesham Regal are looking to negotiate terms to run a cinema in the Abbey Hall, and manage other events people want holding there, and help the council finances at the same time. That would be until Oxfordshire County Council want to use it for whatever exciting plans they have after their review of places. The Town Council have not had the chance to discuss that offer yet but it was interesting news.
Then people were allowed to ask questions or make statements, first about the Abbey Hall, then on accessibility plans for the old part. However the Town Council could give no answers to the meeting. They needed to give the answers full consideration in council before giving answers.
Many points were made but it was news to hear that The Regal, Evesham, think they can run a cinema and re-open the Abbey Hall and help the council finances.
The pictures above do make the point that Abingdon does needs a public room for civic events to hold more than 80 people.
Another point made by a number of people was that splitting the Guildhall into the old and the new part created accessibility problems in the old part. The Abbey Hall did have 2 ramps and 2 lifts to try to make it accessible. The last person to speak said ‘The Abbey Hall may be a 1960’s carbuncle but we still want to use it!’