Poor investment blamed for lack of interest in Brentwood community halls

Community halls in Brentwood are failing to receive takeover bids because the former management company didn’t put enough money into reviving them, a councillor has claimed.

Brentwood Borough Council had advertised for bodies or individuals to take over the management of any one or indeed all five of its halls in August – but only received two offers one of which was later withdrawn.

The authority is now looking for any next steps that would take the responsibility of the running of the halls away from it.

But councillor Vicky Davies (Lib Dem, Pilgrims Hatch) told the community and health committee at the borough council on Monday (September 14) that it was the poor management from the Brentwood Leisure Trust which had been responsible for their upkeep prior to going into liquidation last year.

The trust ceased to exist on November 6 after it was unable to pay wages given heavy debts owed to Brentwood Council totalling £350,000.

As well as running the Brentwood Centre it was also in charge of managing Bishops Hall, Hutton Poplars Hall, Merrymeade House, Nightingale Centre and Willowbrook Hall that can be hired for a range of community events and social occasions.

Speaking in the meeting, Cllr Davies said: “I think there’s several aspects of why people aren’t interested.

“I think covid uncertainty is obviously one big thing but I also think sadly it’s a lot to do with the way that Brentwood Leisure Trust left the halls and although we the council put a lot of investment back into it, it still leaves us with halls that aren’t really top-notch.

“And I hope through the investigation that’s going to be carried out into the happenings at the Brentwood Centre that will be taken into account because it has lost us a lot of money you know as a result of the fact that these halls aren’t letable.”

Councillor Barry Aspinell (Lib Dem, Pilgrims Hatch) said: “It’s a massive problem, always has been and probably always will be as long as we’ve got the concept of community halls and they are owned by the council maintained by the council with variants.

“It’s a drain on our resources but one that if we accept the concept of community halls and what they bring to our residents is one that we have to accept.”

He added his further concerns is that some resident groups are being priced out of being able to use them.

Kim Anderson Partnership Leisure and Funding Manager at Brentwood Council, said: “Part of the tender documents that went out was around the community offer so it’s about the social value that that person managing the hall would be offering back to the council.

“Regarding the pricing, because we’re not a charity we have to add VAT onto any of our pricing so the only change in pricing from when the trusts manage the halls is about 20 per cent which would be negligible for say an hour’s hire but again it’s a balance that we have to take so I think again we can look at the pricing.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter