Community bid for building hits stumbling block

Coun Alfreda Hindmarsh and former councillor Joyce Robertson outside the police station building.
Coun Alfreda Hindmarsh and former councillor Joyce Robertson outside the police station building.
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An application for a process which may enable the Wooler community to take on the former police station has been refused for now.

However, at Monday night’s meeting of Wooler Parish Council, members heard that it is not completely dead in the water and the county council will listen to further evidence if presented.

The parish council had applied for a community right to bid, a process introduced under the Localism Act, which places a six-month moratorium on the sale of a building to allow the community to raise funds in order to try to take it on.

But the application failed as the legislation is fairly narrow in scope, with Kirsten Francis, from Northumberland County Council, describing it as ‘a tool with very little teeth’.

This is because at the end of the moratorium, the seller can still sell to whoever they like on the open market.

In terms of meeting the criteria, she explained that the parish council is an eligible body to apply, but the bid must also be for a building which ‘furthers the social interest of the community’ either currently or in the recent past.

The legislation is aimed at protecting buildings such as pubs and village halls from being sold into private ownership and a police station didn’t really fit into this.

However, members pointed out that the courtroom had been used for educational purposes with schoolchildren going in for mock trials and to learn about policing, while farmers from the area used to meet there for crime prevention sessions.

Ms Francis said: “We don’t want to hold hard and fast to a decision if there’s more evidence.”

It is understood that the police station is not on the market yet, and as a listed building may not attract lots of interest, so the parish council could start raising funds to try to purchase it.