Fears grants towards Ludlow Assembly Rooms revamp could be pulled amid 'false information' claims
Fears have been raised that donations and grant money could be pulled from the Ludlow Assembly Rooms refurbishment after Shropshire Council decided in secret to cut the lease of the building from 125 years to three.
It emerged last month that the project had spiralled over its initial £1.8 million budget, and councillors agreed in a private meeting to plug the £1.3 million overspend.
Ludlow North Councillor Andy Boddington later revealed it had also been decided to significantly reduce an agreed community asset transfer of the building to Ludlow and District Community Association (LAR) to just three years.
The initial budget was made up of grants from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Arts Council England and Shropshire Council, topped up by individual donations and fundraising by LAR.
But questions have now been raised over whether the ERDF and Arts Council grants – made after the 125-year lease was agreed – will be pulled from the project.
The Arts Council said discussions would need to be held with LAR before it could rule out withdrawing its grant.
Area director Peter Knott said: "We are grateful to Shropshire Council and fully recognise the support offered, which will help ensure the redevelopment of Ludlow Assembly Rooms to continue.
“Based on the local authority’s decision, Arts Council will have a conversation with the Ludlow and District Community Association, to discuss any additional arrangements and points of detail that may need to be addressed.
“We remain confident in the scheme and hope to play our part in enabling the Ludlow Assembly Rooms to be restored to a building fit for the 21st century.”
The ERDF is yet to confirm its position.
The council's move in slashing the lease has also stirred up anger among individual donors to the refurbishment.
Ludlow resident John Farley said: "I, along with many other local people, and those from afar, have donated significant funds to assist with the rebuilding of the LAR.
"These donations were made on the understanding that Shropshire Council had committed to making a 125-year lease on completion of the works.
"If Shropshire Council reneges on that commitment, I will want my money back as it will have been donated on the basis of false information. I will have been badly misled by Shropshire Council.
"I would also suggest that the public bodies who have made grants based on the same information will have a very good case to reclaim their grants and to take Shropshire Council to the courts for misrepresentation."
Councillor Boddington is now facing a council investigation for leaking information from confidential papers, but he stands by the decision.
He said: "The Assembly Rooms are at the heart of our community and are well supported by it.
"Shropshire Council should make a commitment to being completely open about what is happening and what the options are.
"It must act as a community champion protecting the interests of Ludlow and its hinterland.
"Instead, it is acting like a property developer concerned with the financial value of assets. It seems to have little interest in the value those assets bring to the community."