I am going to try to write this piece without it drifting into the realms of party politics and hopefully non-libelous comments.
Much has been made recently about a Northern Powerhouse and also devolution of power to the major cities of the North of England and giving more autonomy to county councils. The general hope being that communities will have greater say and therefore a choice of how they are governed.
The town of Atherton in Greater Manchester falls under the control of Wigan Council.
They have a community centre called The Formby Hall.
This hall was a gift to the town of Atherton back in the early 1900’s.
Two annexes were added to the hall as part of the festival of Britain.
In circa 2011, with a valuation of the hall of about £235,000 Wigan Council sold The Formby Hall (and numerous other community centres under their ‘control’) to a company called Rose Leisure (or Eight Wonder, you know how businesses like to change names and have various subsidiaries).
The sale price, on record, for The Formby Hall was £65,000.
The covenant was that the sale would be made under the proviso that Rose Leisure would maintain all their newly acquired buildings so that they could continue to function as working halls to host a variety of activities.
The Formby Hall, for example, hosts (hosted) NHS Blood Donations, various gigs, charity nights, dance clubs, wedding receptions and probably most well-known The Bent n Bongs Beer Bash
Rose Leisure never really maintained the building, the roof is in a particularly bad way and only with some local people did it get fixed to an adequate level so that the Beer Bash could go ahead in 2015.
In about May of 2015 rumours spread that Rose Leisure were telling people with bookings that they would only fulfill them up until July of 2015 and all events after that would be cancelled.
Due to this “leak” it then forced Rose Leisure and Wigan Council to admit that The Formby Hall had been sold to a company called Hilldale Housing Association.
Hilldale are a bit of an odd company in that they themselves are only a conduit for investors to buy up properties for development.
In June of 2015 Wigan Council spent £2m on terracotta tiles
In August of 2015 South East Lancs CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) successfully had an Asset of Community Value (ACV) put on The Formby Hall under the Localism Act of 2011.
Hilldale had made assurances that the hall could stay open until March of 2016 but the doors were locked and as such no one can use the hall, it can fall into a further state of disrepair and of course it can be claimed that it is not being used and therefore it’s now lack of use by the community does not make it an asset worth saving.
In September of 2015 a notice of demolition was put up outside The Formby Hall, this is because due to a loop-hole an ACV can only protect a pub from demolition and the ACV had forced Hilldale’s hand.
There have been various groups formed and a petition of about 4,500 was handed in to Wigan Council to object to not only the initial sale (primarily to Rose Leisure) but also the demolition of a building that in essence belongs to the town and people of Atherton.
It is sad that said local groups have been butting heads with not only the council but with locally elected councillors and that relationships have soured and become cynical and cold.
This is how modern politics work. It is not a democracy but an elected dictatorship whereby small outlying towns are ostracised. It is unsurprising that voters are becoming more disillusioned by the whole process.
The case of Formby Hall is still ongoing and very much up in the air, it is hoped the council will listen, for once, to one of its communities.
There is a petition here if you wish to sign it…
Update: January 2016
Council recommends prior approval to demolish Formby Hall
The above link gives most of the information you need to know, the fate now lies in further planning meetings and a possible intervention by Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government Greg Clark and the constituent MP Chris Green.