Minutes of 1st Guildhall/Abbey Hall meeting

By   30 January 2018

Draft Minutes – Special Parish Meeting Monday 15th January 2018
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Abingdon-on-Thames Special Parish Meeting
Draft minutes of the Special Parish Meeting held at 7pm on Monday 15th January
2018 in the Roysse Room, Guildhall, Abingdon-on-Thames.
Present:
Cllr Jan Morter Mayor of Abingdon-on-Thames and Chairman of the
Special Meeting
95 residents of the Parish of Abingdon-on-Thames, 4 non-residents.
1. General Introduction
The Mayor of Abingdon-on-Thames, Cllr Jan Morter, welcomed all those
present as follows:
“Good evening everyone and welcome to this Special Parish Meeting. I would
like to start the meeting with a few introductory comments, first of all regarding
the status of this meeting and how I intend to manage proceedings and,
secondly, regarding the position in relation to the two matters which electors
have petitioned this meeting to discuss.
A Parish Meeting consists of the local government electors of the parish,
obviously in our case Abingdon-on-Thames and the purpose of the meeting is
to discuss parish affairs. This Special Parish Meeting has been convened
following a request by 11 electors of the parish for me to call the meeting. After
full and careful consideration I called this meeting and that is why we are here
this evening. Agenda item two specifies the items to be discussed.
I need to stress at this point that this is not a meeting of the Town Council.
Whilst there are some Town Councillors in the audience this evening, we are
here to listen and will not be answering questions this evening. The Parish
Meeting does not have any powers in relation to the two items on the agenda
but any comments made at the meeting will be minuted by the Clerk and will be
taken forward to the appropriate committee as necessary. The meeting is being
minuted by the Town Clerk and he is here in the role of Minute Secretary rather
than the Council’s Chief Officer. It is intended that minutes of this meeting be
published within the next two weeks.
As I stated earlier, this meeting is a meeting of the local government electors
registered for the Parish of Abingdon. Consequently, only electors of the Parish
are allowed to speak at this meeting. When making any comments, please
state your name and the road in which you live so that the meeting is aware of
your eligibility prior to making any comments. If you are not an elector of
Abingdon you are still entitled to be at this meeting, which is a meeting which Draft Minutes – Special Parish Meeting Monday 15th January 2018
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is open to the public regardless of where they live; however you will not be
entitled to speak.
I would ask that when people wish to make a comment they indicate by putting
their hand up and I will call them in the order in which hands are put up.
However you will need to be patient. I would ask that everybody speaking be
polite and respectful of one another’s views. As Chairman, I will be managing
the meeting and my ruling on any specific item will be final. We are keen to
hear from everyone and wish to listen and are interested in all your views.
2. The Abbey Hall and the Guildhall
The Mayor moved gave an update to the meeting, which is attached as an
appendix to these minutes. She has also drew the attention of the Meeting to
the display boards in the foyer which explained the Council’s current position in
relation to some of these matters under discussion.
The Mayor then opened the matter to debate commencing with item 2 (a).
2 (a) The Abbey Hall
The urgent need for the Abbey Hall to be re-furbished and re-opened in
the near future in order to provide, once again, a much-needed community
facility for the people of Abingdon.
The Mayor stated that unfortunately Mr Harry Gable, resident of Abingdon, was
unable to attend the meeting due to illness but she read out the following
statement on his behalf:
“Thank you to Madam Mayor for allowing me the chance to give my opinion on
this topic despite not being able to attend the meeting in person.
As both a wheelchair user and a young person living in Abingdon, I feel that it
is extremely important that all residents are able to fully partake in community
events, and play an engaged part in the life of the town. The challenge of
encouraging such engagement is sizeable, but worthwhile in order to build a
community that reflects its members, and brings people together.
For this to be possible, it is essential that all groups feel welcome and able to
make their voice heard, without having to worry about access barriers which
actively discourage such participation. Whilst I appreciate the need to value and
preserve historical architecture, I do not believe that this is incompatible with
accessibility. The Guildhall is an important venue for the town, and given the
need to modernise and renovate the building anyway, I believe that it is of
paramount importance that it is accessible, and welcoming, to all that want to
contribute to the community.”

Draft Minutes – Special Parish Meeting Monday 15th January 2018
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Residents made the following points, these are recorded in these minutes in
the first person in a “close to verbatim-style.”
Susan Williams, resident of Abingdon.
• Noted that the Town Council was in discussions with County Council and
District Council regarding the long-term use of the Abbey Hall. It would
have been useful to have an idea, in order to put discussions into
context, regarding the timescales for these discussions so that people
know what period of short term use of the Abbey Hall would be
considered. This would make a big difference to people’s perceptions in
relation to its use.
• This evening has shown that Abingdon needs a large capacity civic hall;
no other room in the Guildhall would have been able to accommodate
the meeting this evening, other than the Abbey Hall.
• The way in which the Council has evaluated the use of the Abbey Hall
has excluded an organisation of which I am a member from being
classified as a regular user, although they used the Abbey Hall for 11
months a year for 20 years.
The Mayor stated that she understood that ADFAS had been classified as a
regular user of the Abbey Hall during 2013/14.
Tony Legge, resident of Abingdon
• The prolonged closure of the Guildhall is a threat to the long-term viability
of the community. It is the only town centre venue that can
accommodate 100 people. This continued closure will have Abingdon
venue owners rubbing their hands with glee. It is not good for clubs and
societies and culture which are seriously weakened.
• I am not aware of any properly constructed long term plan which is what
a serious business planner would have. We need to know the cost /
benefit of the facility. It would probably show that there is a price to be
paid for community use, such a facility will never show a profit. As a
council you owe it to us to show us the costs and benefits of a properly
executed operation. We want to see your plan.
Brian Page, resident of Abingdon
• Having been resident of Abingdon for 37 years I always thought that the
new part was a complete eyesore which would be best solved by sticks
of dynamite. Can you assure us that the Council has not already made
up its mind?
The Mayor reiterated that the Council would not be answering questions this
evening.

Draft Minutes – Special Parish Meeting Monday 15th January 2018
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Virginia Parker, resident of Abingdon
• Abbey Hall has been shut since the summer of 2015 for a long-term
project although we do not know what is meant by long-term. What
reasons does the Council have for not using it in the interim as it has
done before? This would allow community groups to use the facility and
would prevent them for looking for other venues and also bring in
income.
Mr Ian Smith, making a statement on behalf of his father, Mr Eric Smith (note
Mr Smith submitted a copy of his speech for the record)
• I have witnessed real destruction of buildings whilst living in Berlin
assisting the Berlin Airlift so I am interested in a discussion around
proposed changes to the Guildhall that might be causing concern to
Historic England. I am 89 years of age and retired with my wife to
Abingdon. I purchased a house that would meet or could be adapted to
meet our needs. Have used wheelchairs whilst recovering from illness.
My late wife used wheelchairs due to illness and my partner today is
registered blind and finds difficulty in all sorts of ways including climbing
stairs. My visiting daughter-in-law used arm crutches and wheelchairs,
mobility scooters and adapter cars and could holiday all around the world
and even go in the London Eye. But she could not visit the most
expensive pubs and restaurants locally in much of the town centre. I
remember trying to visit the refurbished Abingdon Museum and found
that I was faced with impossible flights of stairs and a lift that only
descended to a café. The Museum remains unvisited. I heard that some
people objected to the lift. In which case why was the Museum not
located to an alternative fully accessible venue as the law clearly states?
It is the service that has to be delivered from an accessible venue; not
to have to use an inaccessible building to deliver a service. The law is
clear on that distinction.
• It appears the Council has made great advances and does not wish to
make this mistake with the Guildhall. I understand that investigations
have been made and a very reasonable scheme put forward that would
preserve the building and potentially deliver a normal accessibility to all
major floors.
• I have mentioned my age and I, like others in my generation, did not
perhaps give accessibility its due consideration except in more recent
times. As a retired branch bank manager I fully understand numbers and
statistics. These days I understand that 40% of the population have their
decision-making process influenced by disabling barriers, acting either
directly or indirectly on spouse, family friends and relatives. A country
pub visit, historic town centre, coffee or charity shop, tourist information
centre, library or parkland. These decisions are made every minute of Draft Minutes – Special Parish Meeting Monday 15th January 2018
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every day of every year, influencing where people work, relax, shop and
spend their monies on entertainment and at social events
(The Mayor reminded Mr Smith that he had 30 seconds left to speak.)
• There is an obligation on the Town Council for full accessibility if the
building is to be used for public use. The Museum situation must not be
repeated. A listed building today only freezes the building in some
arbitrarily chosen moment in time. In many ways it is an unnatural
situation.
Jim Hines, resident of Abingdon
• Read with interest the information on website and listened to the speech
by the Mayor. It had been stated that there had been a rigorous and
careful consideration of matters over two major projects and the leader
had stated that the Council had been “beaten by the building twice”. How
do we know that this won’t happen again?
• If there are exciting potential plans as a result of discussions with the
County Council and District Council then why have they not emerged
before and why has the building been closed for so long and closed
prematurely? The statement indicates exciting proposals and that a
small number of people cannot be accommodated by the proposals and
will have to go elsewhere. Why do these exciting proposals not include
a large enough space for those here this evening who need it?
• Refer back to contribution by Tony Legge. The original decision was
that the Guildhall should pay for itself and should not be seen as a
community asset. It may have cost £200,000 a year but so, I
understand, does the Museum. The council tax should be spent on
people here, now. Many of the plans relate to Museum / archive /
exhibition of artefacts and storage and there is not enough emphasis on
people here now. The balance is misplaced.
Hilary Green, resident of Abingdon
• The year taken as an example for Abbey Hall bookings, 2013/14, was
the year prior to the building being shut down. Bookings had already run
down by that stage due to the cost of hiring the building outpricing those
who wished to use it, meaning they were going elsewhere.
Angela Thomas, resident of Abingdon
• I understand from what was said earlier that a commercial venture is
prepared to open the Abbey Hall. If they can do this why can the Council
not do it?

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Terry Boswell, resident of Abingdon
• Understand that opening the Abbey Hall would cost money, more than
any revenue which was generated. Do we want to subsidise every
venue, particularly a venue which is not fully accessible for all or fully
inclusive? Does not agree with everything that the Council is doing but
the Council is trying to meet needs as best it can from its resources.
• The archives are not currently accessible and, as a previous speaker
said, maybe they do not need to be. But they are costing us money. It
is better to bring them in house and give people the opportunity to access
them. Similarly with the Museum. In the past with the Museum there
had been a missed opportunity, don’t make the same mistake again, do
something that is available for everyone in the longer term.
Mr Brian Eastoe, speaking on behalf of Mr & Mrs Aylward, residents of
Abingdon, who were unable to attend the meeting
• Have been asked by Mr & Mrs Aylward to raise the possibility of the
Abbey Hall being used as an indoor market. The Guildhall could benefit
financially. The Oxford indoor market has been a great success for
many years and there should be an investigation to whether it would be
possible to provide an indoor market at the Abbey Hall which could host
collectibles, arts, crafts, workshops etc. Many new businesses cannot
not afford rent, rates, etc and the risks entailed in finding a property and
the Abbey Hall could provide a suitable venue. The idea was also
supported by one of Abingdon’s long- established businesses who also
cannot attend this evening.
• Suggest that a small committee could be formed to look into this matter,
to look at the finances etc. The electricity supply to the building would
need to be increased. It would be good to trial this for at least a year.
The Abbey Hall is available and the facilities underneath could be used
for workshops making pottery, wood carving etc.
• This could become a thriving area which people would come into town
to visit. It could be a good attraction instead of it sitting doing nothing.
Rosemary Perrow, resident of Abingdon
• Had been in a conversation with a lady from Witney who had been
visiting Abingdon. The lady had said that Witney had good facilities, it is
nice but it lacks the culture of Abingdon and therefore she comes to visit
Abingdon regularly.
• Aware of two venues who had been approached by community
organisations when the Guildhall closed. What sort of survey had been
carried out of users and potential users by the Council as it seemed the
Council was not fully aware of all the potential users for the Guildhall?

Draft Minutes – Special Parish Meeting Monday 15th January 2018
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Patricia Wynn-Jones, resident of Abingdon
• Is the Town Council taking up the offer from the Regal Cinema Evesham
to use the Abbey Hall for cinema and live events until the Council has
decided the long-term future of the Abbey Hall?
Dr Jim Halliday, resident of Abingdon
• When the Town Council took over the Guildhall from the Vale of White
Horse District Council it received a grant of £1.2 million for capital
refurbishments. Despite asking questions over the years I am not clear
how much of this remains, but suspect it is approximately £1 million.
When the property was transferred in 2011 the Council at the time had
plans to refurbish the Abbey Hall for a fraction of that. These plans would
have included audio-visual equipment, soundproofing, Wi-Fi, etc. Have
the Town Council looked at these plans again? They were fully costed.
A refurbishment could be done at much less than the £3 or £4 million
being quoted. A key factor is cost.
• At the Finance & General Purposes Committee of 19th December 2017
I asked the Committee what the additional running costs of the Abbey
Hall would be? I understand that there are costs to refurbishment. Was
surprised I could not be given the answers. Had been told that the
income generated from opening the Abbey Hall would be less than the
running costs but had also been told that the information was not
currently available.
• Understands that there are “exciting opportunities” in relation to the
Abbey Hall but no one knows what they are or what the cost of them is.
When the Town Council knows what these “exciting opportunities” are I
suggest that the Council holds another meeting, in a larger venue, to
present the various options and undertakes consultation. Maybe these
“exciting opportunities” are the best options but no one knows what they
are. Cannot judge until we know. Understand that the Town Councillors
are all volunteers but they are representatives of the people and should
keep the public fully informed. What we do now will affect the next
generation.
Jill Gant, resident of Abingdon
• Echo the comments of Rosemary Perrow. Fantastic amount of
community groups in Abingdon, particularly in relation to arts and
culture.
• The 2013/14 figures appear to be a remarkable underestimate of usage
of the Abbey Hall. Have attended lots of events there – hustings,
consultations, ADFAS, Mayor’s Ball, concerts, National Trust meetings
etc. If the venue were promoted/ advertised it would be better used. If
it were refurbished there would be a better sound system, better seating,

Draft Minutes – Special Parish Meeting Monday 15th January 2018
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perhaps raked – it would be a good venue for theatre and music and an
exciting community gathering place.
• The Abbey Hall is very important for a town of this size. Why can
Wantage and Wallingford have such a venue and we don’t? A
passionate believer in community although only been in Abingdon for 20
years, there are others who have been here longer. Love it as a town
and the community spirit.
There being no further speakers the Mayor then moved on to the next part of
the agenda item:
2 (b) The need to both improve inclusive access to all parts of the
Guildhall complex and, equally importantly, to preserve and protect the
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Brian Page, resident of Abingdon
• Why does the Council value 1950’s concrete above 17th Century
woodwork? I would like to understand the rationale.
Terry Boswell, resident of Abingdon
• In response to the previous speaker I have seen some of the plans and
if you had seen them, the proposal for the external lift is not at all
inclusive for those visiting the building. Heritage England’s proposal is
somewhat ridiculous.
• Has enormous sympathy for those trying to access the building. Has
restricted mobility myself and has experience in these matters from
running her own B&B. The current building is inaccessible. Applauds
the Town Council’s efforts to provide access at a reasonable cost. I am
a council tax and business rates payer.
• Understand the reasons given by Historic England for suggesting the
external lift but these suggestions would make those having to use this
lift feel excluded and inferior. The proposals are totally against the spirit
of equal opportunities and equal rights and are not acceptable. The
installation of the second lift does not provide access to all rooms. The
proposals from Historic England would be very confusing and not
financially acceptable when the current proposals from the Town Council
are on the table.
• Do not feel that it is right for a building to have priority over people.
Mistakes have been made in the past –do not repeat them. We need a
solution for the future and the community to make the building fit for
community use and available to all.

Draft Minutes – Special Parish Meeting Monday 15th January 2018
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Brian Eastoe, on behalf of Mr and Mrs Aylward, residents of Abingdon, who
were unable to attend the meeting
• Before embarking on this expenditure did you do a market survey of who
are going to use the Guildhall? Was in a group that was priced out of
the building and subject to restrictions being imposed on it. Group could
not use items without having to pay – charges for the number of chairs
being used, tables, being charged extra for being in the building after
10pm, charged for bringing sandwiches in etc. Prices were also higher
than other venues. Are we going to make the same mistakes again?
Who is going to use the Guildhall?
Hester Hand, resident of Abingdon
• The Mayor mentioned at the start of the meeting that it is very
unfortunate that there was not a large enough room to accommodate
everyone this evening but you do have an accessible room large enough
and with disabled access, the Abbey Hall.
The Mayor stated that the Abbey Hall does not have disabled access at present.
• Agree that we must provide as much inclusive access as possible.
There are options to do this, at least partially, by maintaining the link
between the old and the new sides. By severing the link, you are
severing options.
Jim Hines, resident of Abingdon
• Would like to come back to the question as to who is this for, the present
or the past? Delighted to hear of “exciting plans” for the Old Magistrates’
Court but it is not clear the extent to which these will go to meet the
Museum’s problems. The Old Magistrates’ Court is currently vacant and
I declare an interest in that for 13 years I was involved in a society which
brought hundreds of people into the building until they were evicted.
• The Old Magistrates Court is a useful big space which understand will
be predominantly used for the storage of Museum artefacts and
archives. Would be pleased to be proved wrong if it is made accessible
for disabled people to visit exhibitions. This is a space which can
accommodate 50-60 people in it with disabled access and it will be a
waste of space in the town for this to be used as storage.
Bobbie Nicholls, resident of Abingdon
• Why is so much being discussed in confidential sessions of committees?
Understands that financial matters have to be discussed in confidential Draft Minutes – Special Parish Meeting Monday 15th January 2018
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but why not a bit more discussion in the open so the public understands
what is going on?
Sue Richards, resident of Abingdon
• When English Heritage would not allow the lift at the Museum, was so
incensed that I wrote to complain to them. The Town Council went ahead
and put a café in the basement. This could be a good area for the
storage of artefacts as not sure that it is successful as a café. Would
hate to see the same happen again. We cannot preserve Abingdon
buildings just as buildings and artefacts to be mothballed. We must
make them work for all the people of the town.
Mr Ian Smith, making a statement on behalf of his father, Mr Eric Smith (note
Mr Smith submitted a copy of his speech for the record)
• There is an obligation on the Town Council for full accessibility if the
building is to be used for public use. This is not a miniscule
responsibility. The Town Council is trying to achieve this.
• A listed building today only freezes the building at some arbitrary frozen
moment in time. In many ways it is an unnatural situation. I am aware
in some detail that one scheme would be a reduction in the width of the
staircase and the heightening of a handrail to minimum building
requirements for safety. There would be the addition of a modern lift and
with carpets relaid I doubt if anyone would notice the difference.
• Historic England will not be held to account in the future. It is the people
of Abingdon who will be left with buildings that are a dead weight around
our necks: all neatly listed by Historic England.
• The Town Council is required not to discriminate against people when
planning service delivery and selecting from which buildings it might be
appropriate to do so. To quote from a national UK newspaper in the last
24 hours: “Equality isn’t a grey area. It is a universally acknowledged
value. You either believe in it or you don’t.” You are either committed
to it or you are not.
• However, by statute Historic England is excused from having to think
about people and equality. The fabric of a building is the be all and end
all. Nothing else. The building safe for the nation, without regard to
people. The choice should be ours and having seen enough crumbling
ruins in Berlin to last countless lifetimes, I know which way I want to see
the Guildhall go in the future and hopefully enable myself and my partner
to visit, before it is too late. I am also sure Historic England can find an
inclusive way forward if enough people wish it.

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