Special Abingdon Parish Meeting to discuss the Guildhall

Special Abingdon Parish Meeting
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.
Special Abingdon Parish Meeting
This evening the Roysse room was not large enough for the number of people who came.
Special Abingdon Parish Meeting
About 60 people were not allowed in. That included some of the 11 who had requested the meeting.
Special Abingdon Parish 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.
Special Abingdon Parish Meeting
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!’

26 thoughts on “Special Abingdon Parish Meeting to discuss the Guildhall

  1. newcomer

    You know, backstreeter, we all know your photographs are pretty good and often (rightly) complimented, (though catch my better side next time), but this time I’d like to mention how well your text has captured the dynamism and enthusiasm with which the TC tried to force through a creative solution to the opportunity offered by the Guildhall. I believe the pace and urgency of your text sums up how they reached out and grasped the expectation. You are a master of the written word.

    (nb. forward your payment to the usual internet account)

  2. newcomer

    Unfortunately … I was just emailed by someone who was in the Roysse Room and it appears that the TC is going through a ‘Reality Warp’ when it comes to spending Abingdon’s Treasure and the Mayor had an attack of The Vapours. A big ‘Stampy Foot’ and ‘Vwery Cwoss’ TC performance as reported … that THEY could be questioned!

    Apparently, the TC is spending the dosh on ‘hobbyist’ stuff’.

    Hopefully, everyone will have taken their pills by next Monday.

    Be there … see the cabaret!

  3. Dave

    Ref the Statement.. The Towns people of Abingdon on Thames are sick and tired of the 1400s,and would appreciate some positive action on a central community space in the Town.
    Ref the cabaret..I am sure many of us would appreciate aa change of script to include news of action rather than yet more meetings. We can all recognise the old long grass tactic.
    Thanks as ever to Backstreeter.

  4. Paul

    A “normal” TC meeting or Parish meeting would see only a handful of people attend to listen, so the Roysse Room is of adequate size. However, when a special meeting is called, this is proof that a large room is urgently needed in the Town. And as was pointed out in the meeting, the Abbey room has ramps & lifts already in place to give access to everyone.
    The statement on the websites mentions June 2018 to open at least part of the building, this is just 5 months away, surely date would be just to open the new gardens in Roysse Court???
    Remember, the Town Councillors are elected by us, the people & can be replaced at the next elections in 2019. Maybe it is time for a change

  5. Badger

    newcomer – Thanks for posting that link, makes for interesting reading and the comments after add balance.

    I was one of those on the outside so will attempt to make it there for next Monday’s repeat performance. I did get my name onto the list of those attending so the numbers can be noted. Even on the outside I found it interesting to observe that some councillors were keen to get into the meeting room quickly with minimal contact (seemingly almost embarrassed by the number who’d arrived) and others openly talked, chatted and even went outside to meet people.
    All in all an interesting event to observe even if I didn’t get in.

  6. newcomer

    Paul, would that elections were a good time to clear out the same old tired faces, but the initial selection of candidates is made by the main parties who prefer ‘place-persons’ who won’t rock the boat and will toe the party line. Standing as an independent requires a huge effort versus the party ‘machines’ and the last independent candidate to be elected did, I believe, benefit from a ‘profile’ gained from many years as a main party local politician.

    You’re right, it is time for a change. We need politicians whose first reaction isn’t to quote ‘commercial confidentiality’ every time the questions get too problematic. We need people in local politics who believe the public needs to know everything.

  7. Badger

    Daniel – No names, no pack drill. You had to be there. My eyes may be shot but I still observe many things and sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest impression.

  8. Hester

    Deedee – Presumably the TC will make decisions via their normal processes but hopefully they will now take notice of the strength of feelings expressed by electors last night. They have commissioned three pieces of investigation into various issues and are due to get the answers from these later this month; they also now need to consider the offer from the Regal cinema. There is a Town Council meeting on 24 January – we should hear more at that.

  9. Julian

    I have to say, being one of the lucky one’s who was ‘allowed’ in, that i thought the attendees all conducted themselves very well, with no shouting, heckling, and each speaker waiting for their turn to speak. I’m afraid though that i thought the Mayor was quite rude, and indeed i heard several others comment on ot on the way out. I know she won’t comment or reply on this as she pointedly remarked that she would’t, but please do not think your chain makes you better than the rest of us.
    It would, as someone commented at the meeting, be most welcome if the TC held a special meeting to either answer questions, or once they have some ideas of what is happening to let eveyone know BEFORE any final decisions are made.

  10. Rezzy Dent

    Does anyone else think it was wrong of the Mayor to use (or possibly mis-use) her position as chair to read out, straight after her statement, a letter from someone who couldn’t (for good reason) be at the meeting, and who clearly had a particular perspective on the matters being discussed.

    No problem with the statement being read out – everyone should be able to have their say – but it could have done by someone else. As chair, the Mayor is supposed to be impartial in a meeting like that. I felt it made her look anything but.

  11. Paul

    Newcomer, If a number of people worked together an independent council could be achieved. If I could vote for an independent in local elections then I would.
    There are many people who regularly comment on this blog, would any of you be willing to give up your time and put yourself forward as a candidate?

  12. Kelly Simpson

    I wonder what happens if there are still too many people to fit in next Monday. Makes you think Abingdon needs a bigger hall for public meetings – perhaps one about the size of the Abbey Hall!

  13. Iain

    I was one of the ‘shut out’. From what I’ve read and heard from those inside, it sounded like there were two meetings:
    – a relatively calm meeting inside the room
    – an angrier gathering outside the room of people who couldn’t get in

    In the Mayor’s statement to those that were locked out she stated that the Council had expected a big turnout. What angered us was that they could easily have scheduled or relocated the meeting to the Abbey Hall. I am told that inside the Mayor blamed this on a lack of mobility access which was greeted with some mirth (there are 3 routes allowing wheelchair access).

    I hope people will make the effort to turn out again next Monday, I know it’s a big ask, but some of the councillors find listening to the public a challenge, so let’s make it easier for them.

  14. Iain

    … Just to add a comment to badger’s earlier point. The four councillors who were outside hadnt left the meeting but were also locked out like the rest of us

  15. Badger

    In this the age of internet technology could the next meeting be streamed/broadcast live on YouTube, as it’s an open public meeting I don’t see why photography or videography would or should be excluded.

  16. Fiftyplus

    Holding two meetings rather than one not only inconvenienced & angered concerned individuals, but dissected the interchange of views. I do hope that all those excluded will return. Also, to those who have already attended or are unable to sign up, I would query the legality of requiring people to sign up for an open public meeting.
    Even apart from the Abbey Hall, there are still several large and fully accessible venues available that night – the Mayor should be using them, if she values consultation as much as she claims.

  17. davidofLuton

    I wonder how they will ensure that those who come to next Monday’s meeting are those who could not get in last week, not the same people back for a re-run?

    It is extremely odd, isn’t it? Abingdon is not short of venues that can seat hundreds of people – Abingdon Baptist, St Helen’s, Trinity all spring to mind. Why hold the meeting in the Roysse Room, which was obviously going to be inadequate? Anyone with an ounce of brain would have realised that before the evening. Anyone with two ounces of brain would have been able to work out an alternative venue. So all that was needed was three ounces of brain. C’mon, town Council! think!

  18. Julian

    Someone suggested to me that it might have been to do with ‘safety in small numbers’! They didn’t want everyone there!

  19. Angela

    Iain. Thats not quite true. Don’t make assumptions. I arrived early enough to get itnto the hall, there was still room to stand. but, since I could see the crowd building up in the foyer, I chose to come out to make more room for the public, trusting that notes would be taken and a report would be circulated of all the points raised.

  20. Iain

    Apologies, I stand corrected angela, you got there ahead of me so i didnt see you come out, some of the others certainly arrived after me


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