The future of Alton’s Assembly Rooms is uncertain after a plan to develop the community building into a performing arts hub was shot down by the district council.
Alton Town Council agreed to grant a long-term lease to the Whitehill & Bordon Town Partnership in March, before the local elections.
The partnership planned to upgrade the Assembly Rooms to bring new events to Alton and improve facilities for current users such as dance groups, the Alton Operatic and Dramatic Society, Wey Valley Radio and the Alton Arts Society.
But the project was reliant on securing a grant of more than £300,000 from East Hampshire District Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) pot.
And in July, East Hampshire’s cabinet – now including several Whitehill & Bordon Community Party members – voted against backing the project.
This after council officers recommended the “premature” grant application be refused on the basis that “insufficient evidence has been provided to justify it”.
The district council did offer a glimmer of light, adding the project could be supported in future if sufficient evidence was provided.
But Alton Town Council has indicated the Whitehill & Bordon Town Partnership has now stepped away from the Assembly Rooms scheme.
Leah Coney, town clerk, said: “I can confirm the Whitehill and Bordon Town Partnership will no longer be taking a lease on the Assembly Rooms from January 1, 2024.
“Officers will instead work on alternative proposals for the day-to-day running of this facility moving forward and will provide an update once these are ready to progress with the council.”
The East Hampshire District Council report to cabinet continued: “The Assembly Rooms is a listed building that needs a viable use to ensure it does not fall into a state of disrepair. The need to refurbish the building is not disputed.
“However, much more evidence and work is needed to support this application, for the amount of money being sought.
“It is recommended that listed building consent is sought for the works, where needed, and that a strategy for the operation of the building is developed, in partnership with key stakeholders and community groups intending to use the premises.
“It is recommended that other sources of funding are sourced, including town council neighbourhood CIL, and that the community association considers a more detailed evidence-based application in the future, demonstrating deliverability. ”
The report added £1.1 million of CIL money has already been allocated this year towards community facilities in Alton, namely Alton Community Centre, Alton Community Hub and Dementia Friendly, plus £450,000 to the Allen Gallery which includes an element of community space, while Alton Community Hub received £467,278 last year.