Locked out - More secrecy over council’s Assembly Rooms sale

Boston Assembly Rooms door.
Boston Assembly Rooms door.

MYSTERY continues to surround the sale of one of Boston’s most important landmarks – after the press and public were kicked out of discussions on the matter yet again.

Boston Borough Council debated issues surrounding the sale of the Assembly Rooms at an extraordinary meeting of the council on Monday.

But despite representation by The Standard to remain in the meeting, members voted to hold the discussion behind closed doors – by a majority of just 16 to 12.

It was later revealed that opposition councillors had challenged the decision-making process behind the sale, which took place earlier in the summer, and called for the matter to be taken back to cabinet for further discussion and consultation with the full council and the public.

The motion was defeated by the leading group.

All members of the authority have now been made aware of the name of the buyer, but its future use still remains a mystery.

The Standard understands it may continue to have a similar function as it does at the moment, but as a commercial enterprise.

Concerns are rising over the future of the Assembly Rooms and its associated buildings – which include the public toilets in the Market Place.

Boston Borough Council’s secretive approach to revealing information about the building is leading many people in the town to become concerned over what the prominent building could become, with many fearing it may be altered to a nightclub once the sale has gone through.

However, members of the authority say they cannot anticipate what it may become, as no planning application has yet been submitted.

Shops renting units beneath the landmark also remain in the dark. They have been sent letters stating the council will relinquish landlord responsibilites at the end of October, but they have not been told what will happen after that.

“We’re in limbo,” said Maxine Hill, of Lovelace’s florist.

Council leader Peter Bedford said the building had been sold because it costs the tax payer too much money.

He added: “The public need to understand how much the Assembly Rooms has cost them over the past six years, when the decision was taken to sell it. Taking into account all costs and depreciation and allowing for income the Assembly Rooms has cost them more than £1 million.”

OUR STATEMENT

Ahead of the meeting we asked to make representation to members on your behalf – and after last week being told this was possible we were informed at the eleventh hour that we were not allowed to talk at an extraordinary meeting. Independent councillor Carol Taylor made this statement on our behalf:

We would like to ask the council to reconsider excluding the press and public from the issues relating to the sale of the Assembly Rooms. We feel strongly that the sale of such an important town centre landmark is a matter that is in the public interest and one that our readers, the electorate of the borough, deserve to know about through press access to this meeting.

We fully understand that the financial details of individuals outside of the council are private and as such should not be in the public domain. We accept that this is exempt as set out by the Local Government Act. But the financial details of the council should be open to proper scrutiny.

We have been told that the Assembly Rooms has been sold subject to the completion of contracts. This was on August 1. Since then the public has had no update on the progress of the negotiations. The type of business has not been discussed, nor a full open debate about the financial merits of the sale in this current financial and political climate.

We believe that the council can and should discuss this matter in public – withholding all necessary pieces of exempt information.

This extraordinary meeting was called because councillors raised concerns that the sale had not been open to democratic scrutiny. The public must not be excluded from this process.