Tax rise proposal for Gower plan
Taxpayers in a part of Telford could face a 24 per cent rise in their parish precept, as part of plans to refurbish a Victorian landmark.
The Gower School House, in St Georges, was built in 1873. Last year, St Georges and Priorslee Parish Council unveiled plans to move its meeting place and offices into the Gower Street building and provide community halls, outdoor space, a kitchen and a café.
A £700,000 Public Works Board loan would be needed, and the precept rise, which would add an extra £10 to band-D homes’ annual bills, would go towards repaying it.
Councillors will formally decide on the increase at their next meeting, and will decide whether to apply for the loan after a specialist business plan has been compiled.
If they decide not to, chairman Richard Overton said, the money raised would be used for other purposes.
Councillor Overton reminded his colleagues that, in October, they agreed to explore taking on responsibility for the building, “subject to community engagement, consultation and the development of a business plan”.
The consultation included weekly drop-in information centres, notices online and in the parish newsletter and a freepost survey to 5,500 households.
“Out of 449 responses, 66 per cent of residents supported the proposals that the parish council take on responsibility for the Gower and raise its precept to pay for the loan,” Councillor Overton said.
“Thirty-two per cent did not support the proposals, and two per cent were unsure.”
A report before councillors estimated the total costs at £1.3 million - £700,000 of which would come from the Public Works Board loan and the majority of the rest would be provided by Telford & Wrekin Council.
The current £150,000 precept would have to rise to £186,000, he said.
“Should the parish council decide not to progress with the loan, should the business case be made that we wouldn’t proceed with it, then the £36,000 would be set aside and sit in reserves to use for other council priorities,” Councillor Overton said.
Councillor Stephen Handley said: “I think, for 25p a week, we should give the community something they want.
“We’ve got nowhere else in St Georges, and I’m sure Priorslee people will come to the events as well.
“For 25p a week, I think it’s a bargain.”
But Councillor Veronica Fletcher said she had “grave concerns”.
“There are so many unknowns and potential hidden costs, and the constraints on listed buildings are numerous,” she said.
“The most major part is that we will never own the building. It’s only going to be on a peppercorn lease.
“The only people who will benefit are the council [Telford & Wrekin Council].
“They have got this white elephant that they don’t know what to do with.”
Councillor David Wright pointed out that Telford & Wrekin Council had tried to sell the site.
“We’re in a position where the community got it listed and want it to keep it in use,” he said.
The Gower was grade-II listed in 2014.