There was chaos outside the Roysse Room in Abingdon on Monday night, after almost two hundred people turned up for a Special Parish Meeting, to discuss the future of the long stagnant Guildhall project and the room could not hold them all.
At least as many people were left outside in the cold as were inside the meeting, which had been requisitioned by eleven local government electors of the parish.
Those who couldn’t get in included at least two former mayors and council members, whose very reason for existence in post is to represent the views of the people.
It is seven years since the Guildhall was transferred from the district council to the town council, together with legacy funding of more than one million pounds. And it is nearly three years since the Abbey Hall, the largest building in the complex, was closed to public use. It lies empty and unused, save for some people who leave their vehicles at the back, presumably to avoid car parking charges in the town centre.
There could not have been a more perfect illustration of the need for such a meeting and community venue in central Abingdon, than the events of Monday. And there could not have been a more apposite illustration of the manner in which this project has been handled than the way in which those who were left outside were treated.
Many just turned around and walked away, because there was no information forthcoming and no senior town council manager outside, speaking with those who had shown an interest. Those who did manage to make their way through the crowds in the foyer were able to put their names on a list, for a second meeting next Monday, which will repeat the same business.
It is almost nine years since I first drove a licensed Hackney Carriage in Abingdon and this saga has been rumbling on, through changes of civic leadership, for almost all of that time. Yesterday, a colleague told me when he first came to Abingdon to work as a young man, there was the Guildhall, a railway station, forty-eight pubs, two night clubs, a decent shopping centre and a cinema. Now that is almost all gone, save for a few remaining pubs.
Especially in the night time economy, many of us who do business in the town centre are interdependent. It is in the interests of all of us that there is a thriving town centre and a proper civic hall is an essential component of that.
It is not unreasonable to look to those with elected responsibility for the management of public funds and historic assets, for provision of that facility. If they cannot provide that for a town of more than 36,000, you have to question what is the point of a town council at all.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 24 January 2018
- Abingdon Herald, Guildhall set for a major revamp, 01 December 2011, retrieved 29 January 2018
- Abingdon Herald, Abbey Hall could reopen as library in new 'community hub', 24 January 2018, retrieved 29 January 2018