THE district’s new Citizens Advice Bureau WILL move into Huntingdon Town Hall, after councillors narrowly voted in favour of granting the charity a permanent lease.

In the recorded vote at an extraordinary meeting of the finance committee last Tuesday (January 29), seven councillors voted in favour of approving the lease with six against the recommendation - including the town mayor, Colin Hyams, deputy mayor, Bill Hensley, and two former mayors (Alan Mackender-Lawrence and Susan Mulcahy). They expressed concern about the shared use of the public building's reception area and a "potential conflict in compatibility".

Cllr Hyams also told The Hunts Post he was concerned that the whole situation had been badly handled and that the rooms earmarked for CAB, which he described as "dark, dusty and dingy", would not meet health and safety regulations.

He added: "I don't think the situation was handled correctly by the district council. I felt we needed more time to do things properly."

He added: "We want them there. I'm very pro-CAB - they changed my life many years ago."

However, when pushed on whether he was more specifically concerned about the people who would be waiting to see CAB advisors he said: "We could stereotype that some people are less salubrious but that wasn't the issue. They expect 5,000 people a year. If some of them are homeless, they may well stink for need of a bath but there for the grace of God - we want to help people."

Town and district councillor Tom Sanderson, who voted in favour of leasing parts of the newly-reopened town hall to Rural Cambs CAB, said: "It was an unbelievable meeting.

"The charity needs certainty. When the funding kicks in, in April, they need a permanent base in the town."

He added: "As someone from Huntingdon, I am really pleased it went through."

Rural Cambs CAB was awarded the contract to provide advice services in Huntingdonshire in December last year, following the collapse of Hunts CAB.

Rural Cambs' CEO Beverley Howard told The Hunts Post she was relieved at the decision

"The most important thing is that clients know where we and how to contact us," she said.

"We want to keep out of the politics - we just want a place to provide our service. The debate is a matter for them. I do understand their concerns. We are a very busy organisation, with a lot of people coming and going.

She said the past few months had been a difficult time for clients, volunteers and staff but the new lease - being drawn up by the town council's solicitors - would allow the charity to provide an enhanced service for local people, not just a replacement of what was previously available.

"We are building towards a more comprehensive service," she said. "From April 1, we will be open five days a week across Huntingdonshire - before it was only four."

The new service:

Rural Cambs CAB will offer Huntingdonshire residents a telephone and email service for initial contact, with morning and afternoon appointments in Huntingdon and St Neots if further help is needed.

The service will be open five days per week across Huntingdonshire. Initially, the telephone line will be available Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays 9.30am - 3.30pm.

For information and advice, telephone 0844 245 1292 (Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays) or email enquiries.huntingdon@ruralcambscab.org.uk.

Face to face appointments will be available at the Town Hall, Huntingdon on Mondays and Wednesdays. Specialist debt appointments will be available on Thursdays and in St Mary's Community Room, St Neots on Tuesdays and Fridays.