A vital community building in Alnwick, which was saved from demolition after mass opposition, has been offered to the town council for free.
Northumberland County Council has said that the local group can take over the ownership of the sports hall on the vacant and former Lindisfarne Middle School site.
While the transfer would be done at no charge, the town council would have to take responsibility for maintenance and the running of the facility.
An agreement would no doubt be welcomed by the groups and clubs which use the building, but the town council is yet to discuss and decide on the issue.
In spring last year, the-then Labour-run administration announced plans to flatten Lindisfarne Middle School, including the separate sports hall, in the summer of 2017, after the school closed for good.
The county council did, however, promise to find suitable alternative accommodation for users.
But the news sparked major opposition from users of the building, including the junior section of Alnwick Harriers, who launched a petition in protest.
At the time, the town council rallied round the cause and condemned the plans to demolish the sports centre ‘without any consultation’. Mayor Alan Symmonds described it as an ‘act of civic vandalism’.
After the Conservative group came into power in May, a block was put on the demolition plans, and in July, the county council reassured clubs that the sports centre would continue to operate.
Now, the administration has made its offer to the town council. A county council spokeswoman said: “We have recently approached Alnwick Town Council to offer them the opportunity of taking ownership of the sports hall at Lindisfarne Middle School.
“A number of community groups use the space and it could be a great asset for the town council. If this was something they wished to pursue, the transfer would be done at nil value, however the responsibility for the maintenance and running of the facility would pass over to the town council.”
The future of the rest of the site is up in the air.
The spokeswoman added: “No decision has been taken on the remaining buildings.
“It is one of the sites being discussed at the Alnwick Forum which has recently been established to look at how the county council can best utilise its sites for the benefit of the local community where possible.”
Towards the end of 2017, Ad Hoc Property Management teamed up with the county council to implement the property-guardians initiative – a low-cost residential scheme giving people the chance to live at the site’s Lindisfarne Annex, and potential occupants were urged to apply.
But last week, the county council said that this scheme was never implemented.
Councillors and users of Lindisfarne sports hall have reacted to the news that the town council could take ownership of the building.
While the town council has not yet had the chance to formally discuss the offer, Mayor Alan Symmonds told the Gazette that it would be worth exploring.
He said: “This is a big step forward from last year’s plans to demolish it.
“Local management is far better than it being managed from a far, I like the idea in principle and we do have to do all that we can to maintain this fine asset for the community.
“However, the council will have to carry out due diligence about how much it costs before committing itself to a financial obligation and explore whether it is a suitable project for the town council, We will also need to have a dialogue with the user groups.”
Alnwick town and county councillor Gordon Castle stepped in to put a block on the demolition plans last year, after the Conservative group came into power at County Hall.
He said: “This is being offered to the town council as a gift and they will need to consider how they would pay for it.
“I am very much in favour, as it enables the town council to do things, not just try to get things done remotely by the county council. This is picking up on certain duties formerly undertaken by the district council and likely to be much better managed under local oversight.
“I have played a significant role in getting this offer made and now it is down to the town council to consider it.”
The announcement has been welcomed by the junior section of Alnwick Harriers.
Coach Mike Telfer said: “We are encouraged to hear that the county council appears to be starting to engage in dialogue with the town council about a long-term plan to safeguard the sports hall, as it is a vital community facility.
“We trust that consultation will include sporting groups, further education users and local residents.
“The Lindisfarne site is used for many purposes, including further education, sports and for residents’ car parking. A viable solution will have to consider all of these.”