Breakthrough for Maltings project

A �5m renovation of a complex of historic community buildings at the heart of Wells looks set to cross a vital milestone.

The Maltings and Sackhouse buildings on Staithe Street are the subject of an ambitious renovation project by the Wells Maltings Trust – a newly-formed community company which will oversee the planned redevelopment.

North Norfolk District Council's cabinet is to discuss leasing the buildings to the trust at a peppercorn rent, but with an obligation to cover the insurance and maintenance costs of them.

The approval of this so-called asset transfer is essential to get the project off the ground and has been recommended for approval in a report which the cabinet will discuss on Monday.

This would be a 99-year lease and approval would be in line with the coalition government's 'big society' concept of getting volunteers to provide services which councils have provided in the past.

The report says: 'The main financial advantages to the council will be the capital and revenue savings that will be gained by not having responsibility of repairs and maintenance over a very long period of time.'

It adds: 'Negotiations have concluded and it is proposed that the best way forward is to grant a lease of 99 years to the Wells Maltings Trust in respect of the Maltings and Sackhouse site.

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'This is intended to empower the local community to make their own decisions and manage this local community facility for the benefit of Wells.'

This recommendation includes a clause which allows the trust to hand the lease back to the district council if it finds itself in financial difficulties and unable to pay the maintenance and insurance costs of the site.

Peter Lynn, acting chairman of the Wells Malting Trust, said: 'Securing this asset transfer is essential because, without it, it is very unlikely that we would receive the funding we would need for the development.

'But I'm pretty confident at the moment that approval will be given. We have been working closely with the district council for the last 18 months and it's good to see that the project is starting to come to fruition.'

The planned renovation of The Maltings will see the venue expanding from 750 square metres of space to 1,030 sq m.

There are plans for a permanent museum with sections on Lord Nelson, the history of Wells and the history of The Maltings. The Granary Theatre housed there would expand from 68 to 150 seats, and there would be a viewing gallery overlooking the sea. A caf� and a tourist information desk are also featured in the plans.

Wells Town Council, the Wells Area Partnership, Wells Local History Group, The Benjamin Foundation and Wells Community Action are all involved in the project, which is expected to be completed within the next three to five years.

Another milestone in the project will be marked on November 1 with the arrival of dedicated project manager Becky Jefcoate, formerly head of education at the Bloomsbury Theatre and marketing manager for the Museum of London.

Mr Lynn said: 'I am delighted to have such an experienced and dedicated manager take on the challenge of moving the project forward into the next exciting phase of its development.'