There has been a lot written over the past week about Cornwall Councils £5.6 million investment in St Johns Hall in Penzance.
With headlines in the Cornishman veering from “Is £5.6m on hall a sensible spend?” to “Council Services and Iconic Building saved.
Now from the start I will state that I’m very pleased that money is being spent on St Johns Hall, it is an important building in Penzance and Grade 2 listed and has been much neglected for many years. The West Wing that has been owned by The Royal Geological Society of Cornwall being in a very poor condition.
The acoustics in the main concert hall are so bad that many groups will not appear there thus further undermining the viability of the Hall.
It’s the spin that’s being put on this so called investment that really gets me down, Cornwall Council do nothing for nothing and as far as I know the building was not under ‘threat’ so probably did not need saving, some work yes, saving no.
To get this ‘investment’ Cornwall Council will be selling its site at St Clare (the old Penwith Offices), York House a grade 2 listed building, the Library and the Registry Office.
The spin is that that offices are only worth £2m and require a lot of work and are ‘inefficient’ and so will be sold, but of course they will not be sold as a suite of offices requiring work, but as a development site along with York House that is also on the site, which will probably be converted into flats. The whole site is marked as a development site in the Cornwall Local Plan.
Cornwall Council can sell off these offices as over the past 4 years the staff numbers at St Clare have dropped from 450 to 190 with Cornwall Council transferring staff and jobs to offices in Camborne and Truro with many jobs also lost. This has ripped the heart out of the old offices, the remaining staff have to be housed somewhere and its cheaper to do this in a building you already own and will be required to do work to in the near future anyway.
But the old Penwith site is not just the offices on the site, it’s the site itself and it’s big and was last valued at £11m for Penwith District Council,
Add into this the value of the Registry Office, a large Georgian House with its own parking in the centre of the town, more flats? The Library in Morrab Road will also be sold, there is already a buyer for this site, the building last valued at £1m, is being sold for £100,000 as there is a backlog of repairs. In addition there are all the other associated costs being saved, the selling off of 3 sites and moving all operations to one you already own brings considerable savings.
Add this altogether and I fancy it comes to a fair bit more than £5.6m, so I am pleased that St Johns Hall is to be refurbished, but please don’t try to tell me you are doing it out of the goodness of your heart or as proof of investment in Penzance.
PS. Cornwall Council also wish to sell the Town Council Office, across the road and have the Town Council move into St Johns Hall, something I’m personally against, not wishing the Town Council and County to be even more connected in peoples minds.