Town hall sale bid: answers called for

The decision to turn down an offer to buy Ripley Town Hall and the council headquarters next door and turn them into a care home has been met with dismay.

Now calls have been made for the bid to be reconsidered.

Last week the News revealed Belper company Milford Care had made an offer to buy the Amber Valley Borough Council’s offices and a large part of the 130-year-old town hall on Market Place when the site was listed for sale back in 2011.

It wanted to turn the site into 30 to 40 residential flats for elderly couples and 60 to 70 beds for single tenants with a place to eat, a laundry and medical facilities.

Milford bosses claimed this week they would have agreed to leave the town hall meeting chambers out of the sale - allowing them to remain in use by Amber Valley and Ripley Town Councils for meetings and civic functions.

But cash-strapped Amber Valley turned down the bid.

Milford bosses claimed they had made a ‘reasonable’ offer which they believed would have been in line with a price set by a district valuer.

Leader of Ripley Town Council, Cllr Steve Freeborn, this week questioned why Amber Valley had turned down the offer – as well as a £250,000 bid by the town council to buy town hall alone.

It comes less than a month after Amber Valley made a u-turn 
on a decision to let Ripley Town Council lease the hall for a ‘peppercorn’ rent for 99 years.

The town council had led a campaign to keep the town hall for the people of Ripley and went as far as setting a higher council tax to cover the cost of maintaining the hall.

It will set a much lower precept next year to compensate council-tax payers.

Cllr Freeborn said: “It seems to me that they’ve turned down the proverbial gift horse.”

He believes a private care home would have benefited Ripley, particularly when developers claim 30 jobs would have been created by the facility.

He said: “I think the benefit would have been considerable - the building would have created a lot of footfall in the town centre.

“We would have had all the staff working in the home and supporting facilities, who would have come into the town. I’ve no doubt about it.”

His sense of bewilderment extends to the developers themselves.

Gerald Hudson, managing director of Milford Care, which owns highly-rated facilities in Alfreton and Belper, said the Ripley Town Hall site would have been perfect for such a development.

He said: “We would have fitted in here in just the same way we fitted in at Belper.”

Mr Hudson claimed Milford Care was led to believe the sale was a possibility.

He said: “I will say this - we were serious and we are disappointed with the outcome.”

But Amber Valley has said that it turned down Milford’s bid purely on the grounds it had not offered enough 

Executive director of operations, Julian Townsend, said the authority needed a bid big enough to be able to cover the cost of it moving into new premises.

He said: “Full council gave consideration to a confidential report on property transactions at its meeting in January 2012, which included references to the central headquarters and recommendations of the council’s appointed agents.

“It resolved that the chief executive would follow up those recommendations in relation to the highest offer and report back on the outcome, including the financial and operational implications.

“The key to any successful disposal of the central headquarters is the receipt of a sum sufficient to purchase and equip alternative accommodation that meets the council’s service requirements and incurs lower revenue costs than the existing offices.

“To date, no offer has met these criteria and consequently officers have not submitted a report to full council recommending a sale.”

Now Ripley Town Council has voted to work in partnership with Milford Care in a bid to get the council to reconsider the care home bid.

Speaking to Mr Hudson directly at the town council meeting on Tuesday April 16, Cllr Freeborn said: “I think we can work with you in putting a joint package together.”