Sale of the Central Club

The ‘Black History’ mural

Reading Borough Council (RBC) have agreed to sell the Central Club on London Street in Katesgrove to Red Line. They will develop the site and take over responsibility for the maintenance of the mural. Councillors were at pains to point out at RBC policy committee on 16 July, that the process of finding a new use for the club since it closed in 2006 has been protracted.

Finally RBC decided to place it on the open market in March 2018, although bids from community organisations were also possible. It was advertised by Haslams and by Reading Voluntary Action (RVA) with a closing date for offers of 12 noon on Friday 11 May.

The marketing process

Haslams sale particulars stated:

The property will be sold by way of a long leasehold interest for a term of 999 years for a one off premium and an annual peppercorn rent with full vacant possession given on completion. The lease will not contain any covenants or restrictions as to user, alienation or repairs but will impose obligations relating to the future repair, maintenance and protection of the mural.

Bidders could decide to take over responsibility for maintenance of the mural or not; if not, RBC would retain responsibility.

Offers for the property could be unconditional or conditional on planning permission but all offers had to show the bidder’s proposal for the club and be supported by plans.

RVA advertised the bidding opportunity for voluntary sector organisations as in accordance with the ‘Third Sector Premises Policy Statement‘ agreed on the 16 February 2016.  A third sector application form, guidance, scoring and accompanying information could be obtained from the policy and voluntary sector manager at RBC.

The scores on the doors

Four bids were received from three organisations; one from third sector marketing and three from the commercial marketing. Each bid was scored by Haslams against RBC’s evaluation criteria. The total possible score was 200.

The score for each bid and other details were provided in the report to the RBC policy committee on 16 July.

Bid 1

ASPIRE

Bid 2

Red Line

Bid 3

City Block

Bid 4

City Block

Score / % 122  / 61% 138 / 69% 127 / 63.5% 131 / 65.5 %
Opted to be responsible for the ongoing refurbishment and maintenance of the mural Yes Yes Yes Yes
Number of floors proposed 4 7 6 6
Community space 2 floors (focus on Black cultural and support activities) ground floor (let to Reading Between the Lines (RBL) for storage and rehearsal space) none ground floor (let back to RBC for community groups)
Use of building student accommodation housing (including affordable housing) student accommodation student accommodation

No details of the breakdown of the scoring have been made public but were available to councillors. At Monday’s policy committee meeting, councillor Rob White challenged the scoring system and stated that [at 1:09:40]:

As most of the information is not in the public domain I can’t go into detail however I will say the following:

  • there is confusion within the council over the community scoring aspect of the bid scoring
  • as I argued in the private [closed] session, the lease premium has not been scored very well
  • as I argued in the private session, the preconditions for development are scored badly
  • the council could not provide a good explanation for the weightings given to the different criteria
  • the council is not planning on releasing even a partial version of the scoring matrix to anyone
  • is not planning on informing bidders of the breakdown of their own scores as feedback

Concluding that:

As a councillor with access  to the confidential information the scoring looks incomplete, opaque and unfair. To sum it up who knows what the average person riding the No 17 bus must think of it, judging by the audience tonight they are not impressed … Green councillors supported the Aspire bid, we thought it had real merit and it was a real opportunity …

Councillor Meri O’Connell also opposed the Red Line bid [at 1:08:25]. She said that some weight should be given to a group that was not theatre linked and highlighted the strong connections between the Central Club and Reading’s black community.

Labour and Conservative councillors supported the Red Line bid.

Retaining the mural is costing the council £1million

Black History Mural and Mill Lane

The report prepared for the committee states that retaining the mural on the site is potentially reducing the capital value by up to £1million and presents the option ” … given the Council’s  financial situation … ” of remarketing the site without the mural and reproducing it in another form.

Elsewhere in the report [para 4.2] the potential for reproduction of the mural is covered:

The Mural has been digitally photographed and could be reproduced in another way. The cost of this reproduction would depend upon how it was reproduced e.g. available to view on line, photo shot onto an existing building or repainted on another building.

However, councillors were at pains to point out the importance of, and their commitment, to retaining the mural. Councillor Tony Page said [at 1:27:40]:

The mural is going to be safeguarded and as this report makes quite clear that comes at an opportunity cost of about one million pounds so don’t let anyone criticise the authority, we are foregoing effectively a million pounds in order to safeguard the mural …

What happens next?

The Old Central Club

The ‘Legal Implications’ section of the report [para 9] says that the lease will only be granted once all the pre-conditions have been met and that specific sub-leases will be have to be granted for community elements.

Whitley Pump assume that the proposed development of the site would have to be subject to planning permission including the constraints of the location in the Market Place/ London Street conservation area.

Whitley Pump opinion

The mural has now been on the side of the building facing Mill Lane since 1990 and is a landmark for everyone who walks, takes the bus or drives up London Street to south Reading. This site specific work, which incorporates windows in the building behind, is one of the gateways to Katesgrove and so we take a special interest in it.

Mill Lane mural livication

When the Central Club closed, the future of the mural may have been in doubt, thankfully that is no longer the case. However we are concerned and shocked about the level of real bitterness that was evident at 16 July policy committee.

And now that the club has been sold, could someone please take down the ‘For Sale’ signs and the wooden battens that they are no doubt fixed to.


Links
  1. Sale of Central Club – Haslams website & RVA
  2. RBC policy committee 16 July 2018 – papers & webcast
  3. Three protests at council policy committee meeting
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One thought on “Sale of the Central Club

  1. I would like to see more openess in this bid process due to the contradictory information released by various organisations involved, however I do understand the need for commericial confidentiality. Perhaps now the decision has been made then more information can be made public, perhaps by the successful bidder as a gesture of goodwill.

    I read elsewhere that the space used by RBL could be used by other community groups at other times.

    This long drawn out process over more than 10 years appears to have exposed some significant divisions within certain community groups.These divisions are no excuse for the abuse received by some of the councillors involved. I’m always suspicious of anyone claiming to speak for a specific community especially when the process of how that person(s) was selected is obscure; it is never clear who such people reppresent.

    Now that this decision has been made I hope things will calm down.

    Like

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