Row over future of Armstrong Hall as poll is held
A ROW over the future of Thornbury's Armstrong Hall complex has broken out between campaigners who want to reopen it and the trust which owns it.
Members of the Armstrong Hall Action Alliance say the Armstrong Hall Trust, which owns the concert hall on behalf of Thornbury Town Council, would have to sell it to fund a new development at the Turnberrie's Community Centre, which was announced last year.
AHAA members released a statement saying that the trust had "verbally confirmed its decision to sell" the complex.
They called a parish poll, which is being held today, to take a measure of public opinion in the town.
But the trustees, who are town councillors, insist that no decision has been taken on the Armstrong Hall's future - and described the poll as a "waste of public money".
AHAA has formed a community interest company (CIC) called Thornbury Community and Arts, with the aim of taking over the Armstrong Hall complex, which includes Cossham Hall, as a "viable, financially sustainable alternative to the Turnberries scheme".
Members said the social enterprise would restore the complex to use and maintain it "until more costly redevelopment can be funded".
AHAA carried out a viability study last year which it said showed that a CIC could quickly take over the Armstrong Hall and bring back local performing groups and events, such as Northavon Youth Theatre Company, Thornbury Musical Theatre Group and Thornbury Arts Festival, "within months".
The group says it is "strongly opposed" to the Turnberrie's development, saying: "The Turnberries site does not encourage footfall to the High Street, to the detriment of the traders in the centre of the town."
It also says selling the Armstrong Hall would fly in the face of two public consultations held in 2017 and 2018, which indicated a very clear preference for retaining it in some form.
The group said: "AHAA envisage a completely revitalised centre for the community."
It said this would include opportunities for everyone from children, families and teenagers in bands to traders, local artists and special interest groups, adding: "A vital factor for this hub of activity will be the involvement of the whole community.
"Part of AHAA’s viability study involved researching other such venues in different parts of the country, and a clear picture emerges of many similar community-run ventures thriving and flourishing, bringing untold benefits to small and large towns country-wide. Why not Thornbury?"
The group called the parish poll, which is running alongside the poll on the future of Thornbury High Street on May 26 from 4-9pm at St Mary’s Church Hall, the Scout Hut in Park Road and Turnberrie's Community Centre.
The question asked to residents is: "Would you like the Town Council to carry out a consultation with residents and Armstrong Hall users as was previously done when coming to a decision on the future of the Armstrong Hall?”
But the Armstrong Hall Trust insists the future of the comoplex has not been decided, and the poll did not need to be held in the first place.
The trustees said in a statement: "The Armstrong Hall Trust has already stated in a press release that there will be consultation on the future of the hall once the trust is in a position to do so.
"When the poll was requested at the Annual Town Meeting, the trust reiterated that its intention is to consult when plans are available to give the consultation substance, and therefore this poll served no purpose and is a waste of public money.
"The trust is in ongoing discussions with Turnberries and South Glos Council about the possibility of a new Armstrong Hall alongside Turnberries. But as yet, no decision has been taken by the Armstrong Hall Trust about the future.
"As a charity, the Armstrong Hall Trust is governed by strict rules.
"It is required to make decisions in the best interest of the charity, which necessarily involves considering all available options.
"The trust cannot give the assets away no matter how many voted for such an option, ie ownership of the assets must remain with the trust.
"Statements made by AHAA or any other groups regarding the future of the Armstrong Hall complex are therefore only speculation and have no basis in fact."
AHAA is inviting people to find out more about its plans online at ahaathornbury.co.uk, by emailing email@example.com or calling 01454 413850.
Picture: Members of the Armstrong Hall Action Alliance launch their campaign to reopen the hall last year