March 9 2014 Latest news:
Friday, December 27, 2013
The Royal British Legion’s Jubilee Hall in Norwich will close on New Year’s Day - after negotiations broke down between campaigners trying to save it and bosses.
Veterans and users of the Aylsham Road club have been fighting to keep it running since its closure was announced earlier in the year.
Legion bosses believe that keeping it open would pose an “unacceptable risk” to charitable funds.
The insecurity over the hall’s future has led many regulars to move elsewhere and Stephanie Talbot, the new chairman of the Legion’s Norwich branch, said they could no longer continue to operate the branch property, after January 1, as they could not afford the monthly outgoings.
But campaigners hoped that Legion bosses would accept a plan for a proposed Norwich Jubilee Hall Trust to buy the hall and for city businessman Martin Wyatt to sponsor it.
Campaigners wanted the Legion to allow the trust a six-month grace period to run and look after the hall to kick-start the project.
But Legion bosses wanted to sell the property on the open market, to maximise its value.
Mr Wyatt, who chairs the trust’s steering committee, met the Legion’s head of trust compliance, Hugh Phillips last week, and said afterwards that negotiations had broken down.
A spokesman for the Royal British Legion confirmed its position had not changed since the meeting.
Mr Wyatt said: “Hugh Phillips explained that the aim of the Royal British Legion was to maximise its economic return from its property and that it felt the interests of the RBL would not be served by the nominal income which could be generated if the premises were used by the branch – which I had offered to sponsor – or by a reduced rental to ourselves.
“The Royal British Legion, it was stressed to us, was not in the business of running community venues.
“Though the premises had been professionally valued by Bidwells, the RBL would not commit itself to sell Jubilee Hall to our group at an agreed price as they wished to place the buildings on the open market to get maximum return.
“We were offered a short-term tenancy of six months for £15,000 plus the running costs estimated at a further £25,000 while the premises were being marketed.
“With no guarantee that we would be able to stay at Jubilee Hall after this period, we had no choice but to withdraw from negotiations.
“So I’m afraid Jubilee Hall is due to close on January 1, 2014 as was the original plan of the Royal British Legion.”
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has been campaigning to save the hall and she called for a parliamentary debate, which was held in Westminster Hall earlier in the year.
At the debate, the minister for civil society, Nick Hurd warned that the legion must “go the extra mile” to help Norwich safeguard the hall.
She also spoke to the Legion’s director general Chris Simpkins and sent him a petition containing 617 signatures from Norwich RBL supporters, calling on him to retain the hall for use by members and other users.
As reported, Mile Cross city councillors have been trying to get the social club listed as an asset of community value, under the Localism Act, which would give campaigners fighting to save it a six-month breathing space before it could be sold.
Mr Wyatt said that campaigners will now invoke the Localism Act, but he added: “We are invoking the Localism Act, but with Jubilee Hall closed, all momentum is gone from our campaign, and, frankly, I am too shattered to fight on.”
A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: “We’re waiting to receive certain information from the community group interested in Jubilee Hall in order to be able to consider their application to have it listed as an asset of community value.”
The Norwich Evening News has been backing the efforts to retain the club through the Save Our Jubilee Hall campaign.
Do you think campaigners should be given more time to save the hall? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, Evening News, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email firstname.lastname@example.org