Long Valley Hall refurbishment Public report and consultation results

Longfield’s Long Valley Hall and the community park that surrounds it have served this community for more than 50 years. In that time the hall has hosted thousands of parties, events, classes, fairs, markets and meetings. The Community Park has been enjoyed by local people as a place for sport, walking, recreation and outdoor events for decades.

The Hall is not just of huge social and community value. It is also a commercial success. Before lockdown, the hall was extremely busy with local groups, organisations, clubs and markets operating almost every day. The rental income created a surplus every year, helping us to keep the Parish Precept (local council tax) at a low level. Hirers are very keen for the hall to reopen and we are confident that usage will quickly return to normal.

There’s no doubt that all this activity has taken a toll on the hall and, for some years, the Parish Council’s routine maintenance and cosmetic repairs have been fighting a ‘losing battle’ with the hall’s underlying condition. The hall was not built on good foundations and significant subsidence and weaknesses have developed in recent years. Hall users will have noticed cracks in walls and damage to floors as the structure deteriorates. The Parish Council has managed these issues responsibly – commissioning structural surveys at intervals to provide a view of the Hall’s condition – but in 2019 a report gave a clear indication that the Hall’s working life was nearing an end without major intervention.

In considering the way forward, the Parish Council had three main options.

1. Do nothing. If the Council continued to provide only routine maintenance the 2019 report concluded that the Hall’s underlying structural condition could lead to its permanent closure in two to three years. Closure would not only end the Hall’s contribution to the community but also impact the thriving Social Club which holds a sub-lease on a part of the building fronting Fawkham Road.

2. Carry out the structural and foundation works needed to stabilise the Hall and embark on a full refurbishment and modernisation of the facility. The cost of this proposal is estimated at £0.5million

3. Build a brand-new hall. A nice option and one that the Parish Council considered. However, the cost of a simple ‘like-for-like’ replacement was estimated at more than £1.5-2 million. Building an improved, modern building with new facilities could push the cost much higher.

The Parish Council concluded that the stabilisation and refurbishment route offered both the best value for money and the opportunity to refurbish the hall to a high standard. The stabilisation and groundworks required have proved to be considerable but would have been required whether the Hall was to be refurbished or rebuilt from scratch. The refurbishment provides an opportunity to create a modern, airy, attractively clad and energy-efficient community facility. It will provide a greatly improved environment for hirers and visitors alike.
Without dismantling the Hall, non-invasive surveys conducted in recent years could not provide a full assessment of the foundations and ground conditions that lay beneath. As work to stabilise the Hall got underway this year, the scale of the problem was fully exposed. The foundations of the Hall had been constructed on filled-land comprising inconsistent, loose and poor-quality material (Remnants of a vintage car chassis were discovered in one location!) . At each step, additional piling and supporting groundworks were necessary leading to the final cost of the project likely to be at the top-end of our £0.5million estimate.

The Council had been building reserves for some years to provide a significant contribution to the project’s funding but always accepted that additional grant or loan funding might be required.

It is proposed to seek borrowing approval from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to take out a loan from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) in the sum of £200,000 to complete the stabilisation and total refurbishment of Long Valley Hall, which would be paid back over 20 years. Once completed, our village Hall will be well placed to meet the needs of our community for many years to come.

The Parish Council has accessed funding from the PWLB to provide community facilities before. A previous loan to fund new play spaces has now been fully repaid and the Parish Council is free from any borrowing commitments.

You will be interested to know how a loan from the PWLB will affect you as a parishioner and as a precept payer. It is not intended to increase the council tax precept for the purpose of the loan repayments.

Our Parish Council has always been managed prudently and precept rises kept low. We intend that to continue. The Parish Council has recently completed repayments on a previous loan from the Board which releases some capacity in our existing budget. Historically, the Hall has always produced a net surplus of income over expenses and this surplus would be more than enough to meet new repayments. The impact of Covid-19 has meant no income for more than 8 months so the Parish Council proposes to hold a reserve equivalent to no less than one year’s repayments to ensure that early instalments can be met without any change to the Parish precept ( local tax ) .

It is important that we seek your views on our proposal. Parish Councillors are determined that the Long Valley Hall should continue to serve as a community asset rather than be lost or fall to alternative development pressure, but we need to be sure that parishioners feel that way too.

The structural issues related to the hall were embedded at the time of its construction and it falls to today’s generation of parishioners to put them right. Parish Councillors propose to safeguard the Long Valley Hall and prepare it for a new generation of users.

Further details can be obtained from the Parish Clerk on 01474 707290 or at the Parish Office at Long Valley Hall. E-mail Longfieldparishcouncil@btconnect.com

A public consultation and survey have now closed and details are posted below…….