About 120 people attended a meeting in the Parish Hall, called by the Parish Hall Committee to discuss the proposal to build a block of flats on the old tennis courts.
Doug Cartledge, Chairman of the Parish Hall Committee welcomed everyone, and said that the Committee had foreseen a shortfall in funding in the future and were seeking ways to fill this. They had come up with the idea of a block of flats on the old tennis courts, which they are Trustees of. A developer, Andy Lehner had been approached and come up with a scheme for 8 flats of which the rent from the required 25% quota of affordable housing would be available to the Committee. Doug stated that the alternative was to seek money from the village by means of the Parish Council's Precept.
He said that the Committee did not have a financial forecast for the income this would raise, and only a very rough idea of how much was needed. (about £7000 per year)
They were also seeking alternative uses for the old tennis courts, which would themselves become a financial burden in time.
Mrs Stallard, Secretary of the Parish Hall Committee then outlined the history of the recreation ground, tennis courts, and Parish Hall.
Various comments were then made from the floor. It was said that a £10 per year increase in Precept for a Band D property would raise approximately the desired amount of money (about £8500) A vote was then taken which showed 5 against and 17 abstentions.
In the absence of a financial forecast from the Committee and with a clear vote in favour of funding the shortfall via the Precept, the meeting moved on to alternative uses for the tennis courts.
One idea was to sell the land and invest the proceeds. It was pointed out that the Charities Commission had very strict rules about this and the interest that could accrue. It is also true that the land only has value if it can be built on.
A car park was suggested, as it has been many times. It was pointed out that this would cost a considerable sum to install, and there was no return. It has also been said in the past that current Highways rules would not permit there to be an opening in Station Road as it is too close to the bend.
A retail outlet of some sort was suggested.
An integration with Old School Court as an old people's home was suggested, as had been adumbrated at the Mind the Gap conference in the village 2-3 months ago.
Allotments was suggested, but firmly squashed by the Chairman of the Garden Club.
Mr Lehner, the developer, then spoke. He said that he had grown up in the village and had the interests of the village at heart, and had done several good developments in the area, including Longmead. He thought the scheme that he had arrived at after detailed consideration was the best for the village and for that plot of land; but if the village did not want it, he would not push. In answer to a question he said that the planning process now required an archeological survey, which expense he was prepared to sustain.
A member of the Committee, Elaine Branch, then commended the work and dedication of the other Committee members and spoke eloquently about the way this initiative had been handled. She was widely applauded.
Mr Bowden, a Committee member and the originator of the scheme then spoke and said that the Committee had a wide range of experts within it and available to it, and those who knew him would say that he had the best interests of the village at heart. He had advocated not publicising the scheme until the Planning Application went in, in order to stop unfounded speculation. He said the village had to expand in order to remain viable. Mr Reed, from the floor, then reminded the Committee that the village survey of two years ago had found that the villagers overwehelmingly rejected more building in the village.
Mrs Steed, from the floor then asked that the results of the current Housing Needs Survey would be taken into account before a decision was made, but it was replied that the Housing Needs Survey only applied to green field sites, not infill. This was left unexplained.
The meeting then agreed that a further meeting in 5-9 weeks was required to discuss ideas for alternatives uses for the tennis courts. By then the needs of the Housing Survey should be known. It is to be hoped that the Parish Hall Committee has done some sums by then.