Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Hall makeover in doubt with new delay

PLANS to extend the parish hall in Benson have been put on hold — and could be scrapped.

PLANS to extend the parish hall in Benson have been put on hold — and could be scrapped.

The delay comes despite the cost of the project being halved to £250,000 by scaling back the plans.

The scheme involves extending the front of the building and having a new parish office on the ground floor.

The toilet and kitchen used by people hiring the hall would be refurbished and the disabled access improved. Plans to create a second committee room on the first floor were scrapped to save money in June.

At the time, Patricia Baylis, then chairwoman of Benson Parish Council’s halls committee, said it was felt the likely commercial return did not justify the development.

She said the new parish office would allow staff to work in an “appropriate environment” and for parishioners to consult them more easily. Mrs Baylis added: “Personally, I don’t have any concerns about the future of the project. I’m certainly confident that it’s viable.”

Plans to extend the hall were first drawn up in 2012.

However, a survey of residents on how to improve amenities for young people in Benson showed that the facility in least need of improvement was the parish hall.

Most respondents felt that the scout hut and youth hall were greater  priorities.

Teresa McTeague, who now chairs the committee, defended the decision to delay the work on the parish hall.

She said: “We wanted to take time to reflect on the work that had been done with the previous plans and take time to consider how they would best fit with the results of the youth facilities survey.” Councillor McTeague said the committee would re-examine the whole project to date and then decide how to progress and would take into account the views of parishioners.

“Since the project was first started however many years ago things have changed considerably,” she said. “There’s no point having a survey if you don’t take notice of the results.

“Whatever we do we have to make sure we spend our money sensibly and we get maximum benefit out of it.”

A replacement front door for the parish hall is still being considered and costed with sliding doors now the favoured solution.

In December, Jo Whittaker, of Oxford Road, Benson, raised concerns that a revamp of the parish hall could affect the chances of replacing the youth hall and scout hut.

She said: “As a community, we are fantastic in taking care of our older population but there appears to be a lack of services for children of all ages and it would great to see the balance addressed.

“My concern is that a lot of parishioners’ money would be spent on the parish hall, while the youth hall and scout hut are left in a sub-standard condition.”

She said the council was being prudent by putting the plans on hold following last month’s closure of the village pre-school, which hired the youth hall.

She said: “Given the fact they were hiring that five days a week, the drop in revenue would be substantial.

“It seems as if the parish council is being more savvy in its spending.

“I would much rather that the money was spent upgrading facilities for the youth.

“Compared to other local community space, the parish hall is much more expensive to hire.”

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