‘White elephant not a good asset’

Garstang Community Centre
Garstang Community Centre

Disposing of Garstang’s business centre will help protect council tax payers in Wyre.

Wyre Resources portfolio holder Coun Alan Vincent said the “white elephant” was not a good asset and had not given a fair return.

He said: “We have not been successful with the significant numbers of tenants for the business centre to be a good asset. The costs of running it are high, and maintaining it even higher.

Speaking at a meeting of the Wyre Council cabinet on a potential sale to Garstang Town Council, he added: “We have to be sure the return is fair for the Wyre Borough ratepayers.

“The town council thinks there is potential to make it more productive –that is a decision for them and not for us.

“We need to make sure we protect our ratepayers should the project fail and we do not lose any commercial interest.”

Garstang Town Council applied for the community centre to be listed as an Asset of Community Value, after receiving huge backing from residents, businesses and community groups at a public meeting last year.

A specially designated working party, led by Mayor Graham Salisbury, is understood to have been carrying out a feasibility study, although details as to its progress have been limited.

The Courier has approached the town council for regular updates on its business case. In the latest correspondence, town clerk Edwina Parry said: “Graham and I are aware of your request for an update from the working party. I’ll follow up your request.”

The Courier has repeatedly tried to contact Coun Salisbury, but as yet we have not been able to elicit a response.

The town council now has six weeks to make an official request. That would be followed by a six-month period to develop a business plan to buy the building at an agreed market price. The aim is for a decision to be made by 

Borough council leader Coun Peter Gibson said he had been keen to engage with the town council over the transfer of the community centre and it was Wyre Council who had instigated the initial conversations.

Wyre cabinet’s decision has brought to an end more than a decade of speculation over the future of the building, which is in a poor state of repair and is underused, several organisations having quit using it in recent years because of the ongoing uncertainty over its future.

It is has been the subject of several studies and surveys costing thousands of pounds.

In 2008 a bid for lottery funding for a makeover of the building was rejected.

Another proposal, part of the Garstang Partnership/Broadway Malyan blueprint, was for partial demolition and the building of about 40 flats at the rear.

The future of the complex has been in doubt for several years, with its users – educational, community groups and business tenants – repeatedly criticising delays over the lack of a firm decision on what will happen to the building.

Several years ago Wyre Council stated that not all funds raised by any sale would be ploughed back into Garstang.

Two long standing users of the centre Garstang Theatre Group and the Rainbow Pre-School have both moved on to other venues.

Fairtrade pioneer Bruce Crowther gave a new lease of life to the part of the building that was formerly the Wyre Tourist Information Centre with the opening the Fig Tree International Visitors’ Centre in November 2012. But after several “failed attempts” at renegotiating his lease and rumours of ongoing frictions, he announced he would be re-locating to Lancaster.