Blandford Corn Exchange refurbishment plans defended by council
TOWN councillors in Blandford have defended their decision to seek planning permission for a £5 million refurbishment and extension to the town's Corn Exchange and council offices.
Councillor Mike Owen, chairman of the council's planning committee, had asked for the issue to be discussed at Monday's full council meeting, saying concern had been expressed about the viability and extent of the scheme.
Members challenged his allegation that they had not taken "ownership" of the project, which has been in the pipeline for several years and developed by a council-appointed Corn Exchange Project Board.
Councillor Steve Hitchings said: "This council has been trying to develop this project for longer than I have been a member, and has consulted with the public on its very clear objective.
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"We agreed to seek planning permission, but it does not mean we will build it."
Councillor Sylvia Hixson Andrews, a member of the project board, said it had gone into "mind-boggling detail" over the very complicated issue involving many interested parties.
"We tried to keep in our minds that this is a public building with space that is not being used effectively. We need space which is rentable, and all agreed we would go for planning approval."
She stressed that the money would not come from the town's council tax payers.
"There are many other ways to raise money," she said.
Councillor Bob Brannigan added that planning permission was just one of the milestones and a decision they need before they could consider taking the project forward.
A decision is awaited from the Secretary of State on whether the planning application, approved in principle by North Dorset District Council, should be called in for public enquiry because of objection from English Heritage and others.
It was agreed by 12 votes to one with two abstentions that the council stick to its decision of September 2011 to seek planning permission, and await the Secretary of State's decision.