On Wednesday at Full Council I voted in favour of the sale of Beeston Town Hall to Cornerstone Church. The decision was not taken lightly and took place over 12 months of deliberation, consultation, and research. I made my decision based on two principles: 1. Toton and Chilwell residents pay for the Town Hall but most residents do not use it and 2. The money saved can be directed into frontline services. The sale expects to bring in close to one million pounds (taking into account the sale and the fact that maintenance will no longer be required) I think money is better spent in people, rather than buildings and this allows us to spend more on people. By selling the Town Hall to Cornerstone we will not only retain the community element component but we also bring more money into the Council.
Cornerstone’s bid has been criticised for two things: 1. They are an Evangelical Church and therefore cannot benefit the wider community and 2. They hold ‘extreme’ religious views. Addressing the first criticism; this is simply not true. Just take a look at their proposal (see link below) You’ll note that they are proposing several enhanced community benefits, including job classes, a community cafe, English language lessons, and parent and toddler classes. Furthermore, they’ll provide pastoral and religious care to hundreds of people across the borough and beyond. Addressing the second criticism; again, this is not true. As a gay married Jew, I may not agree with some of their views, but I don’t view them as extreme – they are, after all, views shared by many of our great religions. Broxtowe is a diverse place and part of that diversity comes from religious diversity, including Christian views.
I spoke at Full Council and you can read my speech below (please note, during the course of the debate I added bits and took bits out but this is my written speech)
Fellow councillors, I speak tonight in favour of Cornerstone’s bid. In my view, their proposal is robust, financially detailed and provides a clear vision of not only how the Town Hall will look, but how it’ll be paid for. Leaving aside the fact that the Church will provide pastoral and religious care to many people in Broxtowe and beyond, it should be noted and welcomed that they have extended their proposals to benefit the wider community. Many of the services the Community Group wants, the Church will offer. Highlights for me include job workshops and English language classes – all for the benefit of the community.
By selling the Town Hall to Cornerstone, we can ensure the building is retained in its external current form, key features are kept (including the staircase which Heritage England noted was a key feature), community benefit is enhanced and ensure that taxpayers’ money is not wasted. Fellow councillors, whilst I understand the emotional connection to the Town Hall for the people of Beeston, the Town Hall is a Borough asset and many people in the borough, outside of Beeston, simply don’t feel that emotional connection and I, therefore, take the view that it’s not fair for the Council to ask the whole borough to potentially pick up the pieces should a community group fail.
With respect, the community group’s bid lacks detail, sound financial reasoning and relies on grant funding and hand-outs, none of which can be guaranteed.
As a married gay man, I am not the first in line to agree with some of the views the Church may hold. However, I am disgusted with the way some have portrayed this Church’s views as being so ‘extreme’ that they should be disregarded from this process. It is after all the diversity of Beeston which makes it such a great place to live.