repressed from Get Surrey author By Russell Butt November 15, 2012
A DECISION to reconsider giving £5m towards a Magna Carta visitors centre has been welcomed by opponents to the scheme.
Surrey County Council’s communities select committee met on Wednesday afternoon to look into a decision by the county’s cabinet to back the proposed legacy building in Runnymede Pleasure Grounds, Egham, by offering the mammoth cash injection.
The decision was ‘called in’ over fears the funding had been made in haste, something the select committee members agreed with during their discussions.
The Liberal Democrats were among those to voice their delight at the select committee’s decision for the scheme to be referred back to cabinet.
Lib Dem communities spokesperson, Councillor John Orrick, said: “We are being sold a pig in a poke by Runnymede. Surrey’s Conservative Cabinet decided to spend £5m of council tax payers’ money based on just nine paragraphs in a report.
“Many Surrey residents would have seen the equivalent of a 1% council tax increase being spent on a hugely expensive centre that they would get minimal benefit from.”
In July, Runnymede Borough Council (RBC) failed in a bid for just under £4m of heritage lottery funding, so it was a welcome relief for the borough when the county stepped in to help out.
However, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) wrote to the communities select committee urging them to call in the “ill-thought” decision.
The CPRE believed not enough consideration had been given to considering alternative locations, to the fact that much of the pleasure ground is common land which they said would be adversely affected by the increased footfall, and the issue of tenants in three council-owned properties on the site having to be evicted to make way for the building.
Lynne Bates and her husband live in St Anne’s Cottage – one of the homes set for demolition should the visitor centre plans be approved.
Speaking of the outcome of the meeting, she said: “I am delighted Surrey County Council in their wisdom voted to back the decision to refer it back [to cabinet].
“I think there were a lot of issues and concerns raised that were not answered by Runnymede council, like the enormous costs, especially when Runnymede haven’t got any money to put to it themselves.
“Other options discussed at the meeting included reducing the cost, so hopefully they won’t ignore this now.”
The communities select committee will now finalise its recommendations, including considering a lower sum of money, a different location for the centre, the level of consultation by RBC and traffic and common land issues, before referring it back to the cabinet on November 27.
Cllr Helyn Clack, Surrey County Council’s cabinet member for community services, said: “This project has the potential to bring huge economic and educational benefits to Surrey.
“A 10% increase in tourism would inject an estimated £13.5m per year into the local economy.
“The centre would also ensure that, for generations to come, Surrey and Runnymede’s role in the establishment of democracy in this country and beyond is rightfully recognised.
“Nevertheless we are only considering these plans in principle and will only proceed if we are convinced the project has a watertight business case.”