The debate over the future of Garstang Business Centre moved into a more public arena this week as further information was demanded about the true costs of running and maintaining the one-time Wyre Council offices and Discovery Centre.
Mr Michael Ryan, Wyre’s Director of People and Places told Garstang Town Council at an extraordinary meeting on Monday night that much of the information was commercially sensitive, given that options include selling the centre for housing or retail use as well as Wyre retaining ownership of the site.
Town councillors and members of the public plus Fig Tree director Bruce Crowther, questioned him about what a community lease might cost.
Costs relating to the centre had been distributed to town councillors in confidence, but more information was requested by the town council.
Wyre says the centre costs the council about £40,000 a year if you add in central “establishment charges” and it receives back some £26,000 in income from tenants.
The centre is the subject of an asset review because it gives a return of less than 3% and has been identified as an “underperforming asset”.
Wyre Council’s cabinet will meet to discuss its management plan for the underperforming assets – which also include grazing land at Cabus, Skippool Marsh, Cemetery Lane, Preesall ,and land at Wyresfield and at School Lane, Out Rawcliffe – on October 23.
Mr Ryan pledged that a verbal report, giving the of the town council’s stance on the issue, will be given to Wyre Council’s cabinet.
He had been invited to give a presentation to the town council about options available for the town council or community groups to take control of the centre.
He revealed that it was likely Wyre would seek to offer a fully repairing lease of £30,000 a year, with the leaseholders responsible for care and maintenance of the buildings.
Mr Ryan reassured the town council that no final decisions would be made about the Garstang site at the cabinet meeting, although two underperforming sites in Cleveleys could be offered for sale after interest had been expressed in them.
He said: “I don’t foresee the council coming to an immediate decision about the future of that building.”
Mr Crowther told councillors that “the eyes of the world” were on Garstang and it was essential that the internationally renowned Fairtrade centre retained its home.
Stressing that he was aware some councillors had not even visited the centre, he invited them to go and see its educational role.
He emphasised once again that the Fig Tree wanted to mount a community buy-out of the building to safeguard its future and had already received pledges of support totalling £10,000.
Mr Crowther stressed it would be a tragedy if the centre was forced to leave Garstang– but, if necessary ,it would seek a new home in Lancaster.
The Fig Tree’s lease is due to run out next year.
He added that the Fig Tree volunteers just wanted to stay open and this was of “paramount importance” , not the issue of who owned or ran the property.