Report revealed Gilstrap concerns
4:00pm Wed Oct 17, 2012
An historic building was chosen as the location for a new Nottinghamshire County Council register office, despite a report from a senior council officer identifying serious problems with it.
Papers obtained by the Advertiser through a Freedom of Information request show that the council’s group manager for emergency management and registration, Mr Rob Fisher, was concerned about the suitability of The Gilstrap Centre, Newark.
In his report, prepared in February 2011, he said there was no exclusive space of sufficient size available in the building and that the problem was compounded by narrow corridors.
He said some wheelchair users and parents with double pushchairs found it difficult to get around the building, there were access problems for the disabled, and a lack of parking for wedding guests.
Mr Fisher told the Advertiser they could now overcome the difficulties because they had been able to get full use of the building following a decision by Newark and Sherwood District Council to move the tourist information office from the centre.
He said £300,000 had been earmarked for work to the centre, which would include an access for the disabled.
The refurbishment is due to start in March and the register office would be ready by September.
A temporary bus layby at the front of the building will be reserved for bridal parties, and Mr Fisher said they would provide detailed information about carparks nearby for guests.
The county council looked at ten other possible buildings for the register office. Others were mentioned, such as Kelham Hall, but discounted without further research because they were not central enough.
Newark Town Club was found to need significant refurbishment.
The Palace Theatre was considered but it was felt its use to register deaths was incompatible with its use for pantomimes.
The council also looked at Newark Town Hall but had reservations about its suitability.
The former MHI premises, on Appletongate, were considered, along with six large private properties but all were rejected.
Mrs Alex Peace-Gadsby, of the Save The Gilstrap Centre Campaign, said they were surprised and disappointed the county council had pursued the purchase or lease of the Gilstrap Centre, especially after its own officers said it was unsuitable for use as a register office.
She said it was a ridiculous waste to spend £300,000 upgrading the building to make it suitable, on top of rent and ongoing maintenance.
She said: “We believe the high capital expenditure is demonstrative of a strategy to exploit a legal loophole with the long-term intent of taking a building from the people of Newark, signing a seven-year lease in the hope that in that time we will forget about it and they can quietly make the deal permanent.”
Mrs Peace-Gadsby said traffic congestion outside the centre remained a major issue and there was still concern about the lack of immediate parking for guests.
She said other buildings had been rejected because they would need conversion work.
She felt they would probably not face such public opposition and in some cases the council would own the building.
She said they were also concerned about the quality of research into alternative venues and that there had been no serious consideration of them.
The chairman of the county council’s community safety committee, Mr Mick Murphy, said the Gilstrap building was a dignified one and a perfect venue for a register office.
He said: “We are confident the Gilstrap will become a jewel in the crown for Newark.”
The Charity Commissioners are considering an application from the district council, acting as trustees of the Gilstrap Charity who own the building, for permission to dispose of it by way of a lease.
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