24 Aug 2015 Extra Ordinary Meeting : Minutes

Avebury Parish Council

Minutes of an extra ordinary meeting of Avebury Parish Council held on 24th August 2015 at the Red Lion PH, High Street, Avebury SN8 1RF.

In these minutes APC stands for Avebury Parish Council, ASA for Avebury Sportsfield Association, AWHS for Avebury World Heritage Site, LE Partnership for Local Enterprise Partnership, LGA for Local Government Act, NT for the National Trust, UKN for Upper Kennet News, URC for United Reform Chapel, WC for Wiltshire Council and WHS for World Heritage Site.

Time Start: 19:00

  1. Public question time: The Chairman welcomed everyone to the meeting, he said it was a Parish Council meeting but the focus for the meeting was to consider the future use of the United Reform Chapel at Green Street and that the public would be invited to speak. The Chairman then asked if anyone was attending from the press, none was present.There were 25 members of the public present for all or part of the meeting.
  2. Present: Councillors Andrew Williamson (Chairman), Maggie Lewis (Vice-Chairman), Mike Daniel, Antoinette Kremer, Paul Ryder-Morris and Zandria Service.In attendance: Miss Liz Moore (Clerk).
  3. Apologies for absence: Councillors Dr Mike Bedford (Vice-Chairman) and David Brotheridge.
  4. Declarations of interest: the Chairman declared an interest as Chairman of AWHS Steering Committee.
  5. Minutes of meeting held on 4th August 2015: Unanimously agreed as an accurate record. Proposed by Mr Daniel and seconded by Mrs Lewis.
  6. Matters arising from the minutes:
    1. Dog fouling: (Min ref. 6 a). Deferred to next meeting when Mr Brotheridge would be present.
    2. Bus shelter cleaning on A4361 at Rawlins Park: (Min ref. 6 c). As above.
    3. Defibrillator for Avebury: (Min ref. 6 d). Mrs Lewis reported a formal letter had been sent to the NT via the Parish Council but no reply had been received to date. Mrs Lewis to follow up.
  7. Planning application:
    1. Change of ridge detail to the thatched roof from a block cut pattern to a flush ridge at Red Lion PH, High Street, Avebury: Ref: 15/07736/LBC. Plans were tabled and considered. Decision: it was unanimously agreed to support the application. Proposed by Mrs Kremer and seconded by Ms Service.
  8. Future use of United Reform Chapel at Green Street: the Chairman reported that:
    1. A number of people had expressed various views about the future of the chapel and the possibility of it being sold. The Parish Council’s plan was therefore to develop its preliminary thoughts at the meeting, receive further comments both at the meeting and during in the next fortnight, and then finalise its views at its following meeting on 8 September, in time to represent those views at the United Reform Church’s meeting on 10 September.Mrs Suzanne Stimpson clarified that the public meeting on 10 September had been called by the URC and that Rev Maria Shepherdson was helping by arranging the meeting for the URC. Mrs Stimpson also stated that the United Reform Church owned the building, not the congregation.
    2. The chapel had been under the control of the local congregation for many years until very recently. It was in the centre of the Henge and had been used for worship until fairly recent times. But its congregation had declined and part of it had then been used as a Tourist Information Centre for a few years until 2011 when Wiltshire Council discontinued funding.ÊWC paid about £60,000 to break the Tourist Information Centre lease together with its repairing obligations. The chapel’s use as a formal place of worship had recently been discontinued.
    3. In 2014, a scheme had been put forward for continuing the use of the building in much the same way as in the past, on the basis that the URC Synod would help support it. The Chairman read out part of Mrs Stimpson’s letter that stated the Synod would help support the project if a satisfactory business plan was made and if the congregation relinquished control of the building. (See appendix 1). Mrs Stimpson reported the Synod was asked to provide support and appoint a person to take the outreach project further. The congregation consisting of four members had agreed to give up control of the chapel and Mrs Stimpson said control had passed to the Synod Trust. The Synod had however then rejected the proposed scheme in favour of selling the building.
    4. The current position was that control of the building had been passed to the Synod Trust together with the payment of about £60,000 from WC. A survey had assessed that repairs of about £80,000 were needed to put the chapel into good condition, but Synod then decided that the project wasn’t feasible. A number of local URC congregations were also concerned at the decision to sell.
    5. Material planning considerations were that the chapel was a Grade II listed building and that the WHS Management Plan 2015 had identified potential uses of part of the chapel as an information point for tourists and/or as a centre for the interpretation and study of the WHS.
    6. The Chairman itemised various possible uses that had been suggested by local people to date, being: Housing, Hostel bed-spaces, Weddings, Cafe, Centre for reflection and spiritual renewal, Outreach to people internationally, Outreach to people of different faiths, Quiet Garden (Movement), Talks and seminars, Centre for music, poetry, performance art, Gallery/exhibition space for paintings, photos, sculpture etc, Child centred activities, Tourist Information Centre and WHS Centre
    7. People’s written representations: the Chairman summarised emails or letters that had been received from people who were not at the meeting, being Andrew Blackhall , Mike Bedford and Sarah Simmonds.
      (See appendix 2 for representations).

    A member of the public asked whether the meeting that evening would make any difference as the building was already in hands of the Synod Trust. Mrs Stimpson reported the sale had been postponed until proper consultation had taken place. Another member of the public stated that members of URC congregations locally had attended the inaugural URC Gathering at Devizes in July and were very concerned about a possible sale of the chapel or change of use.

    The Chairman said the objective of the current meeting was to think about use of the chapel in the long term and what the Parish wanted. The Parish Council as a statutory consultee would also be consulted should any change of planning use be submitted.

    The Chairman invited members of the Parish Council to put forward their views.

    1. Ms Service questioned whether the Synod was determined to sell the building and pointed out that APC was short of information such as the running costs of the building. Ms Service suggested APC contact the Synod to ask for further information.
    2. Mrs Kremer said she felt very strongly the chapel was in an important position / location and that the whole village should be heard.
    3. Mr Daniel read out his email stating he was strongly against any plans for development / housing. The public applauded his statement.
    4. Mrs Lewis stated the process of ‘who, what, how, when’, needed to be understood.
    5. Mr Ryder-Morris gave his views, later in the meeting, which were that it would be sad if the building was not kept intact as a centre for the community.

    The Chairman invited members of the public to put forward their views.

    The following points were made or questions asked:

    1. There was a definite need for a ‘spiritual space’ in Avebury and that many people were looking for this.
    2. A resident said she would object to any housing development proposal and felt it would be nice for the village to have a spiritual centre.
    3. A resident made the analogy that it was like looking through two ends of a telescope, one lens for a community project for the people and the other a housing project for a development company. He said there was possibly a need for a spiritual space and to look at what else the village could offer.
    4. A resident felt this was an opportunity to have a space/building for the community as a whole.
    5. A resident agreed with much of what had already been said
    6. A resident said it would be important to move away from preservation / conservation and make the space a lived-in building that was part of a lively community.
    7. A resident stated it was important that enough people attended the meeting with the Synod on 10 September. She supported putting a stop to any development for housing and for the building to go back as an information centre and perhaps in partnership with the WHS.
    8. A resident supported the idea of using the building as a touriat information centre, for art/crafts and for use by other groups such as the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area and/or the North Wessex Downs AONB as well as remaining a spiritual centre for all. Due to past experience with another church, he questioned whether the URC had genuinely stopped its intention to develop the building for housing.
    9. A resident felt the building should be for the village and the visitors.
    10. A resident said that the owner would be under a fiduciary duty to maximise income from the chapel and that it was urgent to come up with an alternative plan. The building could be financed and used as a WHS centre.
    11. A resident endorsed any project so long as the building was lived in and used.
    12. A resident said the project would need to be commercial so that the building could pay for itself and if it were sold then it should be sold with covenants/restrictions. It was important that the external fabric in particular of the building should be maintained.
    13. A resident said the community would need a group to organize and run the building.
    14. A resident felt the building should be kept for the community and there was a need for a Tourist Information Centre and/or a WHS centre.
    15. A resident was worried that the Synod was ‘box-ticking’ and that it already intented to sell the building ‘come what may’.
    16. A resident objected to the building being changed to a house or for commercial use and felt the Parish Council should fight against any change of use ‘tooth and nail’. He supported the building remaining as a place of worship.
    17. A resident reported she has been attending the chapel for the past 70 years and remembered the back room being used in the war for the schooling of children. She supported the building being used for worship of all kinds and asked whether it would be possible to raise money from the Lottery Fund.
    18. A resident said she would be saddened if the place of worship was lost and it would be sad to lose the garden too.
    19. A resident said she had always worshipped at the chapel with her mum. She said she was against converting the building into housing and it was important to think about the upkeep and to find someone to run it.
    20. Suzanne Stimpson thanked everyone for their support. Mrs Stimpson said although she and her husband Ray did not live in the village they had in fact been married in the chapel. She felt the main reason the project had failed was because they hadn’t been able to get the practical help in the past. Mrs Stimpson said the quiet garden was part of a project called The International Quiet Gardens Group and this group organized many activities. Mrs Stimpson stated she had asked the Synod for a professional co-ordinator that could be paid to help but to no avail. Their three prong outreach project to develop (i) outreach to the community and visitors (ii) the Quiet Garden and (iii) worship had not been supported.
    21. A resident expressed outrage if the URC was going to ride roughshod over local opinion and she hoped the URC did not have a predetermined view.
    22. Ray Stimpson reported the chapel had attracted 25,000 visitors per year a few years ago and it would only need 50 pence per person to meet the costs of running it. It would then be a viable proposition. He added however that it would need people with integrity to take it on.
    23. A resident noted the energy and power that the meeting had created by coming together and this demonstrated the power to do something.
    24. The Chairman said any project should be realistic and there was an opportunity to reflect spiritual and practical needs.
    25. Funding: the Chairman stated there was not much value in a building with high maintenance bills and limited income, but a lot of value in a building with planning consent for housing. One possibility might be to buy time by renting the building from the Synod. Another might be to buy it; some funding might be available for this type of project from the LE Partnership through the EU LEADER programme that supported tourism among other things. An application for a grant of £25,000 might be realistic.

    APC members’ views: Ms Service suggested that APC write to the Synod as a way of putting a ‘marker in the sand’ to say that APC and the community were against the proposed change of use or sale. Ms Service said there must be strong unity. Mr Daniel said he agreed and said he would not let the building go. Mr Ryder-Morris said it was important Avebury should not become a museum and suggested it might be useful to have a small committee to work out the right course of action.

    The Chairman invited further comments on funding options from members of the public.

    A resident stated he believed there was legislation that could be used under the Community Right to Buy Scheme and agreed to email APC the details. Another resident said in her experience she believed the outreach project ticked all the boxes for heritage and community schemes to qualify for an HLF Project and that a meeting with an officer could be set up quite quickly. This was also a project that would attract Crowd Funding.

    The Chairman said the recently created Avebury WHS Charity might be able to give limited help too.

    In discussion members of the public agreed that any project would greatly benefit from professional management, and that as many people as possible should attend the 10 September meeting with the Synod.

    Decision: it was unanimously agreed that APC write to the Clerk of the URC Synod for onward transmission to the Moderator to inform the Synod of the concerns expressed at the meeting about the future use of the chapel. Planning applications for housing and/or the sale of the chapel would be resisted. The Parish Council would also urge the URC Synod to engage in a proper dialogue with the community on the future use of the building. Proposed by the Chairman and seconded by Mrs Lewis

  9. Communications: the Chairman reported an advert for sports and recreation was due to be published in the September Edition of UKN. The Chairman said members of ASA had written to say they were all resigning [with effect from 30 September] and that APC would be looking for new people to join ASA’s committee and run the Sportsfield.
  10. Finance and admin: none
  11. Date of next meeting: 7:30pm on Tuesday 8th September 2015 at the Social Centre.Apologies received from the Chairman.
  12. Any other business: none
  13. The meeting closed at 20:23

Appendices (included in the book of Parish Council papers):

  1. Mrs Suzanne Stimpson’s letter
  2. Representations received prior to the 24 August meeting