Corn Exchange to be sold

ST IVES Town Council has decided to sell the historic Corn Exchange site for a mix of retail and housing. But, since it proposes to sell its Grade II listed burden without planning consent for a change of use, it is hard to see how the council could insis

ST IVES Town Council has decided to sell the historic Corn Exchange site for a mix of retail and housing.

But, since it proposes to sell its Grade II listed burden without planning consent for a change of use, it is hard to see how the council could insist on its future use.

The 19th century building, which used to house an indoor market and play host to other community activities before it became too dangerous to use in 2001, will be put on the market through St Neots surveyors D H Barford and Company.

The town's mayor, Councillor Deborah Reynolds, has estimated that it would fetch between £400,000 and £700,000, but its new owners would face a repair bill of up to £1.7million.

The decision, which was announced yesterday (Tuesday), follows the council's consideration last Wednesday of a confidential "planning brief" prepared by Barfords.

The council has also said it had considered the contents of the Quirk Report, published last month, which recommended that public authorities dispose of under-used community assets by selling them, cheaply if necessary, to community groups.

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Councillors claimed the report was not aimed at parish councils.

Action Corn Exchange, the group that has been pressing to reopen the building for the community, believes the building is covered by the report's recommendations.

"The council had previously rejected the business plan put forward by Action Corn Exchange on the basis that its proposed construction costs, long-term maintenance costs and projected income could not be justified in light of specialist advice from the council's retained expert architects, quantity surveyors and project manager," the town council said in a statement.

"After lengthy discussions with both district and county councils a development brief was considered at last week's special meeting that looked at various aspects of the development including the necessity to retain the Market Square frontage of this historic building.

"The council has retained D H Barford to market and sell the site on the council's behalf. Barfords will also continue to undertake negotiations with owners and occupiers of other properties in the vicinity of the Corn Exchange to accomplish a more comprehensive development from The Pavement (Market Square) through to East Street (at the rear of the site). It was the sensitivity of these on-going negotiations which caused the council to exclude the public and press from that part of the council meeting.

Cllr Reynolds added: "The council has re-affirmed its decision to dispose of this site and will do so properly, legally and efficiently and to the best benefit of the electorate. We have taken the best advice possible at all stages during this process and intend to see it concluded for the benefit of all the 17,000 people who live in St Ives".

She added: "The council re-affirmed its earlier decision that all monies from the sale of the Corn Exchange, together with that accumulated so far for its repair, shall be used for the provision and improvement of community facilities in St Ives.

"The council regrets that much incorrect information has recently been publicised by those opposed to the sale of the Corn Exchange and confirms that all stages of this process have been in accordance with proper legal requirements and good practices. The council will vigorously defend its actions throughout its deliberations on this subject."

ACE co-chairman Nick Dibben said the group would be discussing the announcement last evening as The Hunts Post went to press.

He said it appeared to contradict the view of Huntingdonshire District Council, the planning authority, that the Corn Exchange should retain some future community use.

"If HDC persists in that, the town council is back to square one. But we still haven't seen the planning brief, and we don't know what the mix of retail and housing would be. It's all a bit of a muddle."

ACE could still bid to buy the building, but its offer would be conditional on the council handing over the £500,000 it has accumulated from Council Taxpayers for repairs to the building.

Town clerk Alison Melnyczuk confirmed yesterday that, since the council was not seeking planning consent before sale, it would not be in a position to tell the new owner what to do with the building, "although we would hope to have discussions".

* Let us know your views: Do you think the council has handled the Corn Exchange issue well? Is St Ives about to lose one of its prized buildings to a developer who can then do what they want with it? And, if the building is to be sold, what should it be used for? Send your views to editor@huntspost.co.uk or to The Hunts Post, 30 High Street, Huntingdon PE29 3TB.

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