The sequence of events on the agenda for the meeting of Reading Borough Council (RBC) on 17 October was altered to allow questions from members of the public before the presentation of the petition and eagerly awaited debate on the Black History Mural and Central Club.

Seven questions relating to the club and the mural had been submitted by members of the public. In the thirty minutes allotted for questions, not all could be asked or answered but written responses were available on the night and will be published on the council’s website.

In answers to questions, the leader of the council Jo Lovelock, re-iterated that the mural would be protected and that the next round of bidding for the club building was also open to community groups. She also provided additional information in her responses [starts at 0:07:45].

Listing of the club as and Asset of Community Value (ACV) has been refused

Question 7 from Mary Genis:

Will RBC write into the developer’s brief for bidders in the next round for the Central Club site and buildings, listed since August as an ‘Asset of Community Value and still awaiting approval, that they must preserve the ‘Black History Mural’ in its original state and position and not be able to digitise it to increase capital receipt for the site or ‘accidentally knock it down after purchase?

The response stated that, as the building had not had a community use for 11 years, it could not be listed as an asset of community value. However the applicant was invited to apply for the mural and wall to be listed as an ACV.

ACVs were established under the Localism Act 2011. This allows community groups to apply for properties to be listed and then a right to bid for them should owners put them up for sale. Many pubs in Reading have been listed as ACVs, also the Madejski Stadium and Arthur Hill Swimming Baths.

The cost of the current survey of the mural is under £5,000

Question 9 from James Pyle was about the current survey of the mural. It was not asked at the meeting as time ran out but included the query:

What will be the total cost to RBC’s hard pressed local tax payers?

The answer was that the cost of under £5,000 would be met from the Council’s property maintenance budgets.

Aspire’s cash offer of £371,000 was not included in their original bid documentation

Question 4 from Keith Kerr asked:

The services that Aspire will deliver to children and adult groups are of incalculable value to the Reading taxpayer over the coming decades:
Why then does RBC believe that a commercial developer will be able to deliver greater value than Aspire’s compliant, compelling, fully funded £10 million investment with delivery of strategic council services to Reading’s Council Taxpayers [Aspire’s officers includes, a cash offer of £371,000 as the fair market value and the delivery of RBC strategic services]?

In relation to the £371,000 Councillor Lovelock stated in her reply “This was included in a letter to the Chief Executive on 6 October. This did not form part of the original bid made by Aspire.”

When he presented the petition Keith Kerr, chair of Aspire, explained that fair market value had now been determined as £371,000 (see below).

Presentation of the petition

The wording of the petition was:

Do Not Sell The Central Club (A Community Asset) to Commercial Developers

We the undersigned, petition Reading Borough Council (RBC) to think again and give proper consideration to the Aspire (Reading) CIC compelling, compliant, fully funded £10 Million Bid to acquire the spiritual home of the Black diaspora of Reading, the Central Club site and buildings.

We feel the black community of Reading should not be scapegoated and made to suffer disproportionately for RBC’s financial budgeting failure. We believe Aspire’s bid provides strategic services to the diaspora that RBC are retreating from which makes Aspire a long term partner to the solution as their bid is 100% consistent with RBC’s strategic priorities.

Keith Kerr, spoke for the allotted eight minutes to introduce and present the petition and highlighted why the club should not be sold to commercial developers. [at 0:34:00].

… Fair market price has been determined now to be £371,000 and we have said that is what we will pay, so the question I want to ask is why then do you still think a commercial developer has the right to take away from the community its spiritual home on the basis that you should get value for money? …

The appeal is clear. We have the money, we have the passion, we have the desire, we have the means, we want the same access as anyone else and we do not believe that access should be predicated that we should compete with commercial developers because you are in a financial bind. …

He went on to say that on the advice of councillor Bob [Rob] White he would withdraw the threat of requesting a judicial review of the council’s decision to reject the Aspire bid. [at 0:41:30]:

… that it would not make sense for us to antagonise the council by depleting your already small resources by taking you to court and spending monies that we’ve raised in that way. I make a public statement now that the issue about a judicial review has been set aside on the basis that we want our bid to be fairly and justly evaluated and recognise the historical association the black community has had with that site for over thirty years. …

In her response to the petition, Jo Lovelock re-iterated that the mural was not under threat, she said:

… we are all on the same page with regard to the mural. … We are not allowed to disclose the contents of the bid because Aspire will not give permission for that. … there was no cash offer in the original bid …

  1. Council meeting 17 October 2017 – papers and webcast
  2. Aspire CIC
  3. Reading’s Caribbean groups ‘demand their birthright’ with the Central Club
  4. Assets of Community Value
  5. Voluntary sector Can Still Bid for Former Central Club Building
  6. Community Right to Bid: Non-statutory advice note for local authorities
  7. Reading Borough Council involved in ‘obfuscation and deception’ says Aspire chair