Early fears for future of Sheringham’s Tesco-built community centre
Fears for the long-term future of Sheringham's new community centre have been voiced - even before it is built and opened.
Managers of the public building face a major rent rise in seven years time when they are faced with paying a 'market rent' for the complex.
Supermarket giants Tesco are building the replacement centre as part of the planning deal which sees them putting a store on the site of the existing one.
Once built the new centre - which will sit on the old Hilbre School site in Holway Road - will be handed over to Norfolk County Council (NCC) and is expected to be managed by the town council.
Local members have run the centre on behalf of the county authority for the last nine years for a minimal rent.
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But there are now fears the new facility will not remain in the hands of the town, as NCC is planning to scrap the peppercorn rent when the current lease expires in 2019 and introduce market rates, which the town council may not be able to afford.
Anti-Tesco campaigners have said the move could leave the town 'well and truly suckered' and community leaders feel local members must tread carefully to ensure they are not 'lumbered' with a huge bill.
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Local county councillor Brian Hannah said: 'There's lots of ifs and buts here, which is difficult for Sheringham. If the town council doesn't want to sign a lease for the new community centre where does that leave it? We don't know.'
The Cromer Road facility used to be run as a youth club but when NCC shut the group down the town council took the building on and began running it as a community centre.
It is now used by a number of local groups and clubs and regularly hosts fitness, art and dance classes, children's parties and other events.
Eroica Mildmay, who headed the anti-Tesco campaign while the supermarket was seeking planning permission, blasted the proposed rent hike.
She said: 'The fact that Tesco was supposedly 'gifting' Sheringham a community centre was always up in lights, right up there in big print throughout this whole sorry debacle, but surprise, surprise, lurking in the small print is a seven-year sell-by date.
'The lack of transparency here is just dire. And if the community can't raise at least �50,000 a year, as a suggested figure, every year, to keep it open, bang goes our 'gifted' community centre.
'We may well have been well and truly suckered.'
Mr Hannah said Sheringham 'desperately' needed its community centre but understood NCC's reasoning for wanting to push the rent up.
'In support of NCC they're running out of money,' he added. 'Sheringham being a small market town the town council is totally limited on finances. We're all in the same cart here.'
An NCC spokesman said rent changes, such as those proposed in Sheringham, had been previously adopted in similar situations as a way of 'ensuring we get value for money for all Norfolk taxpayers, so that we can invest any money received back into front line services'.
The spokesman added that the town council was considering buying the new centre instead of transferring the lease.
The Holway Road centre is expected to be built by late spring so work can then begin on the Tesco store, scheduled to open in 2013.