NEWS that Alton is to have a new Community Centre is tempered with sadness that the scheme will not include a partnership with Holybourne Theatre company. The go-ahead for the community centre was given last week by East Hampshire District Council's Cabinet following a consultation which revealed more than 70 per cent of people in favour of a new build rather than a refurbishment. The new £2.5 million building will stand in the Bank car park, adjacent to the river and opposite the library. The preferred option of Alton Community Association (ACA) trustees responsible for the centre, the new building is expected to be up and running within the next two years. Described by ACA chairman Pat Lerew as "confirmation of a decision taken two years ago" to build a new centre, it is still "fantastic news". It follows indecision by EHDC, triggered by Environment Agency concerns over flood plain issues relating to the River Wey, but that has now been resolved and a long awaited new building is on the agenda. The trustees are now faced with developing yet another detailed specification for a new centre which they had hoped could include a theatre/ conference facility. The trustees had agreed to the concept of a joint venture with the beleaguered theatre company which is looking to sell their existing site in London Road, Holybourne, for development – a plan which should release up to £1m for a new facility elsewhere, and they were keen to plough this money into a joint project with ACA. The proposal had been to work with ACA to develop a facility which would have benefited both parties and, more importantly, the community as a whole. But it is not to be. According to EHDC chief executive Daphne Gardener, having sought expert financial advice from HM Customs and Excise, any involvement by the theatre company could change EHDC's VAT threshold, making it liable for a bill of up to £0.5m on a new build project. Mrs Gardener explained that while the activities of ACA were classified as 'non-business' for VAT purposes, an amateur theatre company is different. Even if a registered charity, by virtue of the fact that it sells tickets for performances, a theatre company is seen as a business. And any business involvement in the new build project would attract VAT. While acknowledging that a partnership would have been a good idea, the VAT situation, combined with inevitable time delays caused by the requirement of the theatre company to sell its land and the need to sort out financial and legal issues, had led Cabinet members to dismiss the idea as "not viable". But, said Mrs Gardener, councillors were determined to work with Holybourne Theatre to find an alternative home. Ideas included the Treloar Heights site earmarked for community use and the possible shared use with Alton Town Council of Alton Assembly Rooms. "In this way we would end up with two good facilities for the town," said Mrs Gardener. Holybourne Theatre trustee, Peter Stone, is deeply disappointed by what he views as "a poor decision" by EHDC. "We, with the ACA, truly believe this is the biggest community opportunity Alton has seen for many years. It would be wonderful for Alton to have a brand new fit-for-purpose community centre and we admire all the hard work Pat Lerew and her team have done to make this possible, but just imagine this new centre combined with a new state-of-the- art theatre - the possible opportunities for both organisations would be endless." Mr Stone said of the Treloar Height suggestion: "While we are not ruling this out, the position is not ideal compared to the community centre because we would be swapping one end of town for the other. A central position would be much more appealing." Commenting on the situation, Alton Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) president, Steve Daley, said that ACCI was "extremely disappointed" by the decision not to pursue the ACA/Holybourne Theatre partnership idea and strongly hoped that dialogue could be resumed with a view to further investigation. Mr Daley was sure that a way could be found to add the theatre company into the equation. He told The Herald: "I feel that having some form of flexible exhibition- conference-stage production area would be advantageous to the town and an opportunity not to be missed."