Honiton Community Centre

Honiton is split and I’m being asked which side I’m on….

For many (many) years there has been a group of people in the town who have been trying to develop and realise plans for a community centre or complex in the Devon town.

I have lived in the area now for almost three years, having moved here with my Honitonian husband Daniel and our two children aged nine and five. In my opinion, there are not enough good venues in the town for community activities and when I heard about the plans for a community centre, I thought yes, surely that would be a very good thing for this town. A bespoke building for the whole town to use for meetings, events, classes and more.

Then came the town poll, did they say it cost £2000 to administrate? And off the top of my head, I think it was about 70/30. That is 70% AGAINST the community centre. Very disappointing BUT this was a democratic way of measuring the feeling within the town. Democratic as far as this only measured the feelings of the minority who come out and vote in the town (I think this was ONLY about 30% in the last local elections!!)

Many objectors were opposed to the huge costs involved and money to be borrowed especially in the current economic climate. Then East Devon District Council withdrew the offer of the land to build on (the car park near the tourist info office & the Thelma Hulbert gallery).

Now I may be wrong (but my knowledge of all of this is just the same as the average Honiton resident, we pick up what is in the local papers etc) but I believe the town council is ignoring the results of the poll and pressing on with plans for the centre?

So this brings me back to whether I think Honiton should have a community centre.

I do think a town of this size should have a community centre and I do think that had the whole community been truly engaged in this debate, that many more local parents like me would have voted yes to the poll. I lived outside town at the time of the poll so couldn’t vote (which is strange in itself as my family, like many in the surrounding parishes use town facilities).

Although I think we should have a centre, I also think that we don’t need to be burdened with huge debt for future generations of Honiton. I read recently of another town in the region (I forget where) who had successfully raised enough to build their own community centre. What an admirable community!

I would like to see the plans and start thinking about how the centre could pay for itself. Perhaps this has already been discussed over the twenty or so years of planning but what about the centre being built of a low cost recycled material, eg tyres, glass, used wood etc ? Will the building be producing it’s own energy (solar etc) and making money from feed in tariffs? I presume there are also grants available for community ventures like this? if so many community groups want the venue then everyone should pull together to raise the funds to make it happen.

I think I’ve probably just touched on this issue and I do apologise if I have got my facts wrong. I welcome all comments on the issue and would like to find out more. Please add your comment below.

Sharon Pavey
Coordinator East Devon Green Party
Regional Fundraiser for South West Green Party
Prospective Green Party candidate for Honiton St Michaels ward

11 Replies to “Honiton Community Centre”

  1. Yes it is all a matter of cost and debt.

    It was 72% against in the referendum. If folk couldn’t be bothered to turn out to vote for it then they probably wouldn’t be bothered to use it.
    Those who voted against know that we simply cannot afford it.
    When someone quotes that the debt divided by the number of Honiton residents = the portion of the debt per household they are not admitting how many people in Honiton actually pay Council Tax.
    Let us have a true figure of the debt per paying resident and the burden it will impose on these few.
    Particularly as a high proportion of ‘payers’ will be on fixed retirement income, or struggling with family budgets against higher inflation and stagnant wages.
    Be honest about the ongoing running costs over and above the building debt. Will a small group of Brownies or Knitting Circle, or any other imaginary club be able to afford to use it ?

  2. Thank you for taking the time to comment Diana. I agree the funding of it is a worry. Do you not use any of the local community groups yourself? I think there is a lot more going on in Honiton than just Brownies and knitting (and I’m not knocking those groups, I’d love to try both!)

    Just this week I heard about two groups who had experienced some difficulties funding venues in town – the book club and the senior council.

    Actually I would be very interested to know if there has been a survey if all of the local clubs and societies to see who needs a community centre.

    I will do some more digging….

    Sharon

  3. Sorry, I was being a bit facetious quoting Brownies and Knitting Circle. My point is that the need for the community hall is not the argument.
    This issue is all about affordability,
    1, firstly the building costs and the number of residents who will foot the bill (I was hoping you might be in a position to look into how many households this burden will affect, because where the Council Tax bill is subsidized this amount will again be spread amongst the ‘few’)
    2, and the running costs which must surely be re-cooped from those who hope to use the facilities. Or will this be yet another burden on the Council Tax ?
    Will these local clubs be able to afford to use a room at the new centre ? There are various venues available in the town some are not used because the cost is too great if the group is small. Is this the case with the book club and the senior council?

  4. The question of the community centre is not just about money.
    The actual cost per council tax payer is really not large (the town clerk can provide the actual figure) but people who are against the project for other reasons have seized on the current economic climate and the threat of debt to gain support for their views.
    Several studies have been done during the long period of the campaign for the community centre, and all of these resulted in the conclusion that there is support in the town for the project. Honiton is unusual in having no central meeting place for events and for organisations to use. The Town council’s accommodation is very poor, concerts can only take place in the church (which is good but not always suitable) and the real issue is that there is no focal point in the town. We don’t have a town hall, we don’t have a theatre, we don’t have a good rentable venue for community groups. Other towns and even some villages in East Devon all have at least one of these things. Communities thrive where there are good opportunities for community activities, and a venue in the town centre can provide something for everyone.
    The town poll was requested by or on behalf of a group of people who were specifically opposed to the use of the proposed site at Dowell Street. It may have been intended to get the views of the people of the town, but it was not well publicised, the polling hours were very short, and there was little real campaigning on either side. No attempt was made to clarify the issues. So the poll cannot be compared with a real election or referendum. A poll of this type is not binding and the Town Council, while noting its results, is not obliged to adhere to the outcome. Just as well, given the very low turnout.
    There are times when politicians should lead, not follow. Honiton has grown, in the last twenty or thirty years, from a small market town to a considerable population centre with a very varied population. It needs good amenities not only for its residents but to attract people from outside the town to come and enjoy events here. We have waited long enough for the one thing which can now make a real difference to Honiton, and it is time for the prevarication to stop.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to comment Christine. The town clerk has invited me in to chat more about the issue. She tells me “councilors are not allowed to comment on a project that has been resolved by full Council”

    The Midweek Herald is running a story today about a planned public meeting about the community centre – see http://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/extraordinary_meeting_to_move_community_centre_scheme_forward_1_802420

    The paper (actual copy – not online) mentions a new site in the car park at Dowell Street, next to the magistrates court. Apparently there is funding of £800,000 available but the town council would need to put up the remaining £975,000.

    Sharon

  6. Pers Cap

    Thanks Sharon, my thoughts :

    This started as a community project; the Town Council took the lead as it was in a better position to negociate with partners and access funding. We also find that community support does not always translate into an actual commitment to delivering a project.

    My interpretation of being a town councillor is that you champion and defend everything that is good about the town and seek to improve where improvement is needed.

    The town’s population has increased considerably over the last 40 years and facilities have not kept pace. Unlike most surrounding villages the town does not have a community building that meets it’s needs but rather a limited collection of assorted facilities that only go some way to meeting the town’s needs and therefore this is one project I have been involved in.

    I would also interpret it as bearing the wishes of most people when voting on decisions. I personally justify putting the concerted opposition of at most twenty people and a vote against by around 130 people in a poll most people didn’t vote in, in context of 12,000 residents. To have so little opposition to such a major scheme suggests we are along the right lines.

    We have also consulted extensivly over this and used the feedback to improve the business plan and the architect’s plans.

    I understand it is a project involving a high financial commitment, it is budgeted for, the impact on any one resident is remarkably little and I see it as an investment in the town’s future. The town has an excellent individual businness community but it needs support.

    East Devon’s decision was a strange one given they are a formal partner in the project committing land, finance and officer time but they have made it clear they continue to support the project and have confirmed their support for a site further along Dowell Street which the town council will consider on Monday.There are consequences of their decision, one of which may be a reduction in what is delivered including aspects of what was a very environmentaly minded building.

  7. Thanks for your comment Michael – in the time since I wrote my original blog, I’ve met lots of people who are in favour of the community complex and I’ve looked into the previous consultations more. I needed to know that there was a small minority opposing it and it does seem to be that way. I’ve certainly not yet met a single person who opposes the idea of a community centre in Honiton. I am very interested to see how the meeting goes on Monday evening, perhaps the opposing individuals will be there? My next move is to start looking at the plans to see how environmentally sound they are – and keep talking to the people of Honiton to see what their feelings are.

  8. Will one of you please spell out what the cost will be to each person who actually pays council tax. Don’t just divide the debt by the number of people living in Honiton.
    Also the cost of hiring the rooms.

  9. As i was one who didn’t bother to vote, reason what a waste of money who ever insisted on having a public vote should be made to pay for it, why do we vote for councilers in this town?? answer to run our town , we should have a community centre for the future generations , think about the young people not everyone likes sport, i think most people who voted against do not pay full council tax so they have no right to shout against it , the council should listen to the people who have spent most of their lives here including teenagers ,by the way i am a pensioner

  10. Hi Diana – come along to the meeting on Monday night – I think you can put in your questions beforehand – looking on town council site agenda is says “Questions in writing please, to arrive at the Council Office by 12 noon on the day of this meeting”. You can email them this weekend at towncouncil@honiton.gov.uk

    Hope that helps. Do say hello if you’re there Mon night !

    Sharon

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