05:50PM, Wednesday 26 January 2022
The council leader insisted there are ‘no plans to sell’ Maidenhead Town Hall at a meeting on Tuesday as a petition over its future was debated.
Councillors were required to debate the building’s future, famous for its appearance in the Carry On franchise, after a petition started by Melanie Hill surpassed the required 1,500 signatures.
The petition was launched last year after the administration passed a report in April which raised concerns about the cost of maintaining the building and its energy efficiency.
It presented a number of options to review, including the possibility of the council moving to a new corporate building.
A motion proposed by Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley & the Walthams), recommended the council continues ‘to investigate the situation and report back to members when appropriate for decision’.
Introducing her petition, Ms Hill called for councillors ‘to save the town hall, and keep it within the public domain’.
She added: “Your report says there is no evidence of the building being special or unique that the council is aware of.
“On the contrary, my dear fellows, from a performer’s point of view the theatre is a great asset to the community and beyond.
“It is hired by many local theatrical groups, dance schools and more as it is a perfect space. It can accommodate the many performers, which most venues cannot, and their audience members.”
She added: “A lot of productions raise funds for local charities.
“Post pandemic, we need to look health and wellbeing of the community so it's vital that local theatre in particular remains central and accessible by all.”
Melanie continued to say that ‘other alternative venues’ such as Norden Farm and Braywick would create ‘availability complications’.
Cllr Johnson then presented his motion, and referenced the previous cabinet meeting in April last year which would ultimately prompt the petition in response.
The leader of the council said: “I think we were clear at that meeting that there are no plans – absolutely no plans – to sell off or demolish Maidenhead Town Hall.
“To suggest otherwise was and is a clear case of extreme politicisation.
“What we have quite rightly sought to do is to explore the future investment required for this building to enable the council to continue its corporate functions here.”
He added that the council were seeking to discover whether any represent a ‘fair deal’ for the taxpayer.
However, leader of the opposition Cllr Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) was sceptical of his opposite number’s claim that the town hall would not be sold off.
“I do have a bit of a feeling of déjà vu at the moment,” said Cllr Werner.
“Almost 20 years ago, I was sitting opposite the then-leader of the council, and he was saying ‘we have no plans to knock down the town hall’.
“Within weeks, suddenly, plans were revealed and it turns out he had the intention to knock down the town hall, he just didn’t have plans written down in detail about it.
“We have seen previously other administrations and also in this administration that ‘no plans’ means there’s no written, detailed architectural plans for a planning application, but they’ve got the intention to knock it down or the intention to sell it off.”
Upon being put to a vote by hand, Tory councillors and a number of independents voted for Cllr Johnson’s motion. Only Cllr Ewan Larcombe (NFPP, Datchet, Horton & Wraysbury) voted against the motion, with the Liberal Democrats abstaining from the vote.
A cross-party coalition of 28 councillors from three different factions has been formed at Wokingham Borough Council.