Warnings Sheringham’s new Tesco-built community centre could become a ‘white elephant’

The long term future of Sheringham's new community centre remains in the balance as town councillors could not agree to sign the lease for the state-of-the-art building.

Members were worried they would be signing a 'blank cheque' as the lease threw up unanswered questions about rent, market value and exactly what scheme would be built.

But their lack of a signature sparked fears Sheringham could be left with a '�2m white elephant' if Tesco - which is building the new centre as part of its permission to open a super store - reverted to earlier plans that were not seen as fit for purpose.

The current community centre is run by town members on a peppercorn rent on behalf of Norfolk County Council (NCC). Once the new centre in Holway Road is completed Tesco will hand it to NCC, which in turn intends to pass it back to the town council.

But when the lease expires in 2019, NCC plan to charge a market rent for the new complex, which the town council may not be able to afford.

Local members were called to an extraordinary meeting yesterday to discuss the lease with NCC's agent Jeff Clarke. And despite warnings from him over delaying the process and debating the matter for nearly two hours, they failed to sign on the dotted line.

They were concerned the latest plans from Tesco had not yet been passed and did not want to take on the building without having some idea from NCC of what it would be worth if they decided to buy it, or what the rent could be pushed up to.

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Stephen Frazer said: 'It would be a leap of faith for this council if we didn't have some idea of what the county council were going to ask for this building.

'You're asking us to commit but we don't know how much we're committing to.'

Peter Cox added: 'We're on this council on behalf of 7,000 residents of Sheringham and are being put in an insidious situation with fingers pointed at us all the time that we're delaying. Not everything's been made entirely clear to us and we can't dash into things. We have to be certain.'

But Mr Clarke was worried the continued delays could push Tesco into constructing an earlier scheme, which it does have permission for, but was amended as it was not deemed suitable for the town.

He said: 'The great danger with that is we get left with a community centre which is not fit for your current aspirations.'

Deputy mayor David Gooch proposed members sign the lease with conditions but his proposal was voted down by six votes to seven.

Mayor Douglas Smith also put forward a proposal but it was thrown out and after further debate members agreed to move the discussion onto the agenda of next week's meeting.

Tesco said ownership of the centre would pass to the county council once it was built. A spokesman added: 'We know many people in Sheringham are keen to use the new community centre as soon as possible and we're looking forward to building it for them as quickly as we can. We're very pleased to be able to offer such a great facility to the Sheringham community, which will help improve services for local people.'

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