Loss of Winkleigh Centre

Joseph Bulmer

WINKLEIGH residents gathered at their village community centre on Saturday to display their loss at not being able to agree a take-over of the premises from the county council.

The centre is now due to close at the end of the month after two years of negotiations between the county and the community centre committee broke down at the end of December.

The former primary school building has been used by local people since the school transferred to a new site in 1973. It is estimated that the centre has an annual footfall of around 18,000 people, made up from nearly 30 user groups. It also houses a community broadband internet facility and archive.

Representatives turned up on Saturday to display how big a loss the facility will be to the village.

Committee chairman Roger Smith said: “After a very considerable period of negotiation it is particularly disappointing for our village and surrounding communities that we have been unable to reach a satisfactory ‘change of ownership’ agreement with DCC in regard to their asset transfer offer of the Winkleigh Community Centre to us.”

This involved the building, but not the car park or former playground area, which they could only use under licence, he said. They had been unable to reach agreement with the county because of a number of restrictions, including concerns over access and parking, which would become more complex if the county decided to develop on land in its ownership there.

At the end of last year the committee decided it could not continue on the present path.

But while the committee had decided it could negotiate no longer, local councillors would still be attempting to soften the county council’s view, he said.

A statement from the county council said: “Devon County Council has worked hard to enable this transfer to go through. The original agreement in July 2008 was clear that the council was only prepared to transfer the community centre building and would retain ownership of the surrounding car park and access to the rear of the site. The council did, however, allow the association use of these facilities and access to the centre, including disabled access.

“The issue of the car park has been disputed for over two years and culminated when the community centre’s lawyers informed the council before Christmas that, despite the restrictions being known since July 2008, they were too onerous. The community group, through their solicitor, has formally withdrawn from the negotiations.

A spokesman added: “We have been keen to see this matter progress quickly and smoothly and we have never varied from our original agreement.”