Fears Drill Hall could be ‘lost to Chepstow’

By Liam O'Callaghan in Politics

CONCERNS have been raised that the Chepstow Drill Hall “will be lost to the community of Chepstow” after a heated town council meeting last week discussing the issue of the hall’s ownership.

Opinions clashed as councillors and a vocal public gallery expressed apprehension about the transparency and consultation of a bid for £1 million of funding for the hall and the possibility of it falling though.

Despite the intense discussion, the future of the Drill Hall will be decided at an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday, 9th August.

The bid is for a Big Lottery Fund community asset transfer program which requires the transfer of assets, from individuals, public or private sector organisations to community ownership.

In the case of the Drill Hall the transfer will be to a newly formed Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) which would then run the hall.

After they met last Wednesday (26th July) Chepstow town councillors will have five options to choose from regarding the ownership of the hall.

These options consider whether the Drill Hall should stay the same – leased to the town council with the management committee in place, or whether it should be transferred to the CIO, to the town council or whether Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) should retain the hall and lease to the CIO.

It is also possible that the town council could extend the lease and find an agreement with MCC to sub-let to the CIO.

It was also revealed that a meeting between the town council and MCC last week was the first the two have had on this issue.

The Drill Hall Management Committee (DHMC), which organised the bid, had met MCC and gained their approval for an asset transfer in principal without the authority from the town council to speak on behalf of the town council who currently hold the lease on the hall.

This was just one of the points raised when it came to concerns about the transparency of this bid which has already received £50,000 in funding.

Councillor Lisset Burrett raised three points of concern, the conflict of interest of the members of the DHMC, the difficult access to the bid process for members of the public, the lack of transparency.

She said: “The culture of the current committee will go with the new CIO unless there is a culture change.”

Councillor Hilary Beach also touched on those points and called for more independent consultation.

She said: “I am concerned the Drill Hall will be lost to the community of Chepstow.

“The consultation has not been done properly, questionnaires were only sent to the users of the hall. I haven’t been consulted and the people in my ward, St Christophers Ward, haven’t been consulted either.

“We have been sleepwalking as a council because we have not insisted the DHMC produce its accounts and minutes. We need to look at the DHMC.”

Councillor Ned Heywood MBE, chair of the DHMC defended its work so far and was willing to provide the town council all the information it needs including accounts and minutes before the meeting next week.

He also raised the idea of stepping down as chairman, and noted the CIO constitution needed to change but stressed the importance of the town council making a decision before what he said was a 15th August deadline.

He said: “What I don’t want to see, having got this far, is to lose the potential of taking this money.”

Comments which were backed by councillor Paul Pavia who noted the lottery’s scrutiny on the bid and said: “We are still in the position to make a decision where the asset is protected.”

The extraordinary meeting will be held on Wednesday 9th August at 7pm, a location will be confirmed on the Chepstow Town Council’s website and noticeboards. The agenda will be posted on Thursday by 12pm.

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