Otley Civic Centre future is up for debate

Otley Civic Centre

Otley Civic Centre

First published in Local news Ilkley Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

A document that could decide the future of Otley Civic Centre has been formally submitted to Leeds City Council.

The feasibility study, created by a working group for Otley Town Council, aims to show that a refurbished building could become self-financing shortly after re-opening.

The report, which was presented to Leeds City Council, on Monday, envisages: l Full annual running costs, including maintenance, marketing, staff and the £30,000 a year loan repayment, of £265,860 l A significant shortfall – about £69,000 in year one – between income and costs in the revamped Civic Centre’s first few years l Income rising so that by year five the building would be getting closer to breaking even – generating just under £230,000.

It is now up to Leeds Council, which owns the Grade II listed property and is committed to funding its long-awaited refurbishment should the business case prove convincing, to decide what happens next.

Town council chairman Councillor John Eveleigh (Lab, Ashfield) is optimistic.

He said: “Leeds will take some time to see if it all stacks up and, if the answer is ‘yes’, will have to identify the necessary capital to pay for the work.

“But we think what we’ve got is a better-than-evens chance of getting this going from a revenue perspective. We’ve taken the view that the main hall, as a major entertainment venue, has to be the driver for the whole project and we cannot run the building as it was before.

“We think we’ve demonstrated that we can make the revenue side stack up, with the town council taking responsibility for paying back the public works loan, over a long period, at about £30,000 a year.”

That loan would be for a £600,000 contribution from the town council towards the centre’s multi-million pound improvements. Councillors had previously agreed on a £500,000 figure, but a further £100,000 would cover the costs for setting up a cinema – also in the main hall – too.

Leeds Council has pledged £670,000 and proceeds from the sale of some of its properties in Otley to cover most of the work, which would include installing access lifts and turning the hall into a multi-purpose, 400- capacity auditorium designed to attract big names.

Further income could come from: l Taking long-term tenants (East Street Arts, for example, has expressed interest in leasing studio space) l Renting rooms out for one-off events l Leasing the centre cafe and bar.

Councillor Carl Morris (Lab, Manor) said: “This is about moving away from a traditional ‘town hall’ use to being a dynamic events venue.”

Under the plans the town council would take over responsibility for the building and its upkeep following the revamp – and then sub-let it to a charitable trust that would run the centre. The full town council will get its first chance to debate the feasibility study on Monday, January 20.

Town and ward councillor Sandy Lay (Lib Dem, Otley and Yeadon) welcomed the study, but said it must be rigorously checked. He said: “There are a lot of assumptions made around income and therefore it is imperative that the residents of Otley scrutinise these costs because it is they that will be paying for it in higher council tax over the next 30 years, if those assumptions are wrong.

“Also, not all the costs are included. The capital costs of refurbishment are not included and are likely to be another £30,000 to £40,000 per year on top of any running costs.

“I am of the view that this is such a big decision for the town financially that a referendum should take place.”

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