The Drill Hall

The Drill Hall is currently the subject of a proposed “Community Asset Transfer”. This would see it’s lease transferred from County Council to community ownership.

At the moment the Town Council has about 9 years left of a lease on the property from County Council. A CIO, a charity structure in which trustees are limited in their personal liability, has been established to be the recipient of that lease.

The Town Council would have to agree to release the lease so that it can be transferred to the CIO. The CIO has space for 2 Town Councillors and 1 County Councillor on it’s 8 member board of Volunteer Trustees. One of the benefits of this is that, as a community owned building, it could apply for Lottery Funding to improve facilities. Currently, with the lease transfer assumed, it stands a good chance of getting £1 million of such funding. That is funding that could not go to a local government body, hence the requirement to transfer the lease to a community body.

Update: This has proven to be the most devisive and emotional issue so far since I was elected. It recently went from farce to tragedy when we lost Karl Daymond, a popular local figure, to a heart attack at a Town Council meeting on the subject. I did not know Karl personally but I had enjoyed the musical fruits of his labour on many occasions. We lost one of the good guys there and Chepstow will be poorer for it.

His passing has, of course, overshadowed the issue of the Drill Hall. I do feel it is important though, to his memory and to the town, that it does not harm the future of the hall he loved.

The Town Council recently voted to ask for the lease to be transferred from Monmouthshire County Council to the Town Council. Town Council would then long sub-lease the hall (for 99 or 49 years) to the C.I.O.

I disagreed with that vote. It is my opinion that we should have left Monmouthshnire County Council as the leaseholder, as there will be significant costs involved in the maintanence of the building that Town Council will struggle to meet as the ultimate landlord. There will be constraints and covenants a plenty in either case to ensure the nature of the Drill Hall remains as a community based facility, open to all. Thus “retaining control” in this way provides little advantage but potential very high costs which townspeople will have to meet through the precept (the part of your council tax set by Town Council through which our funds are raised). I’d be interested to hear what residents think about the new direction.

The issue has been further muddied by accusations and “anonymous” leafleting. I would like to distance myself from that approach to our community. I think it is devisive, bitter and unconstructive. We have channels through which complaints can be raised, not least the Town Councillors. Personal attacks should never be part of how we solve our differences.

I do have concerns, shared by many residents, about the structure of the CIO. At the very least “best practice” was not followed in its incorporation. From my perspective as a new councillor, the Town Council has let residents down by not providing the proper oversight and scrutiny to that process. That lack of oversight has severly limited our options now that funding deadlines loom.

Going forward, the Town Council position on the lease has been decided. However, that now needs to be agreed by Monmouthshire County Council which requires the presentation of a viable business plan to MCC Cabinet members. Producing that plan, then having that plan scrutinised by County Council Estates will take time. If the plan is seen as viable it will then be tabled for MCC Cabinet to make a decision on.

If all that goes ahead without a hitch, the lease transfer would only take place in this way if the Lottery bid is succesful (which we would not know until February).

This story is far from over. I believe the CIO needs restructuring in a way that does not harm the Lottery bid. The due process of the Community Asset Transfer has to take place in a time scale that does not harm the Lottery bid (in other words: very quickly). The plans for the Hall itself need further detailed development.

What everyone seems to agree on is that we want the Drill Hall to thrive. I intend to keep that sentiment at the core of any work I do on residents behalf.