THE townsfolk of St Ives overwhelmingly want their historic Corn Exchange to be retained for community use and run by a trust – and are prepared to pay for it, according to a survey carried out by a pressure group. Thirty-five per cent of households in th
THE townsfolk of St Ives overwhelmingly want their historic Corn Exchange to be retained for community use and run by a trust - and are prepared to pay for it, according to a survey carried out by a pressure group.
Thirty-five per cent of households in the town responded to a questionnaire prepared by Action Corn Exchange, with well over 90 per cent supporting keeping the building public.
The turnout was almost as high as for the last St Ives Town Council elections in 2004, when 40 per cent of electors voted and the turnout was boosted by simultaneous elections for the whole of Huntingdonshire District Council for the first time in 30 years.
ACE distributed its questionnaire to each of the town's 5,700 homes, with nearly 3,000 people feeling strongly enough to respond.
The biggest majority - 96.8 per cent - was supportive of keeping the grade II-listed Victorian building, completed in 1864, for community use. St Ives Town Council had voted to sell it.
Almost as many wanted ownership transferred to a charitable trust, and supported ACE's plans to establish a flexible venue for the arts, music and culture, for civic events, as a meeting place for local groups, an information point for visitors and a "one stop information shop" for the voluntary sector.
Almost all respondents were prepared to put their money where their votes are by continuing to pay an average Council Tax levy of £17.50 a year for the building's upkeep, as they have since it closed in 2001.
According to ACE, the figures call into question the town council's repeated assertions that an overwhelming majority of St Ivians wanted neither the building nor the levy.
The council claimed it would cost £1.7million just to make the building safe for development and yet more money to convert it for any future purpose. But on September 5, it is due to meet civil engineer Mike Purchas, who owns the town's Golden Lion Hotel opposite and believes it could be re-fettled for half that sum.
If the town council accepts his ideas, it will be the first step in disengaging itself from the hook on which it impaled itself when it rejected ACE's plans in May, claiming they were inadequately researched and would not find popular backing.
ACE co-chairman Ian Dobson said the survey results "demonstrate overwhelming support within the town to keep the Corn Exchange as a community building.
"They also give a clear picture of the facilities that need to be provided and that people are willing to pay to make it happen."
Fellow co-chairman, Nick Dibben added: "The results should convince councillors they need to reach an agreement with Mike Purchas, who has offered to help them restore the building. We know the town council is concerned about money, but public consultation can help convince grant-giving bodies, such as the National Lottery, to provide funds.
"ACE is willing to work with the town council and Mike Purchas to develop a suitable scheme and help raise the money to pay for it."
* Large numbers attended a gig for the Corn Exchange at the Golden Lion to hear local bands perform. A petition to save the Corn Exchange, circulated at the pub, attracted more than 250 signatures.