Devonport Market Hall heritage group say Plymouth council stole their thunder
A GROUP which has been working to save a historic Devonport building says council bosses have "stolen our thunder".
Members of Plymouth City Council's Cabinet agreed last week to buy Devonport Market Hall for a nominal £1 from the Homes and Communities Agency.
The agency will also give the council a dowry of £2.57million to develop the building.
Cllr Chris Penberthy (Lab, St Peter and the Waterfront) told the Cabinet: "To expect a community group to take it on at short notice would have led to failure."
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But Pam Gallagher, chair of the Friends of Devonport Market Hall, said the news came as a complete surprise.
"I was quite perplexed by Cllr Penberthy's remarks. He has never consulted me or my group, nor I him."
Ms Gallagher, who is also the Secretary of the Friends of Devonport Park: said: "I was amazed to read the article in The Herald.
"My group has been working closely with Redrow, the Homes and Communities Agency and, latterly, the council, in negotiations regarding the purchase and eventual renovation of the Market Hall for use by and for the local community, since late 2012."
She said their ambition had been to create a state-of-the-art museum and to use the building for market stalls, exhibitions and a cafe.
The group had made initial approaches to the Heritage Lottery Fund with its project proposal.
"At the moment I think our little group is probably dead in the water.
"Our meetings with Redrow and the Homes and Communities Agency have all been very positive about our group's project and now without warning the council has stolen our thunder," Mrs Gallagher said.
A council spokeswoman said: "The opportunity for us to consider owning the Market Hall was only made available very recently and we've had to pull out all the stops to ensure that we meet the deadline set by the Homes and Communities Agency of March 31."
She said the purchase was not yet settled. "There is a dowry of £2.5million that would have to be spent on the building should the transfer be successful this financial year. Nothing has been confirmed yet.
"Given the short time scales and the complex legal processes involved we have not been in a position to discuss this with the wider community.
"We look forward to working with the community on this, should this deal be concluded."
Cllr Penberthy said: "I want to clarify my comment – any community group taking on such a scheme within such tight time scales would be doomed to failure.
"We want to set things up for the community to succeed which is why we are also working on a community asset transfer policy which will go to Cabinet in May and will set out a clear policy and process on how we can achieve our goals."
Devonport Market Hall was annexed by the Ministry of Defence half a century ago and remained hidden behind the Dockyard wall until 2006.