Friday, 9 August 2013

Town Hall arson attack

Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol has condemned an arson attack on Saltcoats Town Hall.

The historic structure is currently undergoing major renovation works, expected to cost in the region of £3.5m.  The works began last May after Cllr McNicol secured initial funding of £1.9m.

Police Scotland indicated that a fire in a doorway to the rear of the Town Hall, in the area of the car park accessed from Green Street, had been deliberately started.  Firefighters from Ardrossan attended the blaze last weekend and extinguished the flames before they spread to the inside of the building.

In May, a North Ayrshire Council spokesperson said renovation plans for the Grade B listed structure would “see the building restored to its former glory as the civic focal point for the town”.  However, without Ronnie McNicol’s pursuit of funding for the project, it is likely the building in Countess Street would have remained closed and deteriorating.

As previously reported by the3towns, a £3m revamp of the town hall was originally announced in early 2007 by the then Labour administration of North Ayrshire Council.  However, after the local authority election in May 2007, at which the Labour administration was returned to power, the funding for renovation work was reduced to £1.9m, with the balance (£1.1m) being reallocated to a project for a new community centre at the Stevenson Institute in Largs - but no works were ever begun.

As a result of Labour councillors’ inaction, Saltcoats Town Hall continued to deteriorate and was subsequently closed to the public.   At a Council meeting, Independent Ronnie McNicol forced the then Labour Leader, Cllr David O’Neill, to admit that the £1.9m had actually been removed from the local authority’s budget and Labour had no plans to do anything with the town hall. 

However, at the Council Budget Meeting in February 2012, Cllr McNicol, backed by the SNP’s Willie Gibson, moved that an ‘indicative’ sum of £1.9m should be made available from an identified ‘underspend’ to allow renovation works at Saltcoats Town Hall to begin.

Cllr O’Neill, for the then Labour administration, agreed to the proposal and initial works to make the town hall wind and water-tight commenced shortly after.

Subsequently, a new SNP administration, which was elected in May 2012, revealed proposals for the town hall building to be transformed into a community service hub for the area, accommodating a Housing Office for the Three Towns, Saltcoats Registration Office, a customer service centre for Council services and a local heritage centre. The main hall is also scheduled to be restored and made available for public and community use.

The total cost of the project is estimated at £3.5m, which includes the crucial initial funding of £1.9m secured by Ronnie McNicol.

Saltcoats & Stevenston SNP councillor Willie Gibson, who backed Ronnie McNicol’s motion for funding and who is now the Leader of the Council, welcomed what he described as “innovative proposals for future use of the Saltcoats Town Hall.”

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