READING Borough Council has reiterated its stance that any voluntary sector group can still bid to buy the former Central Club building.
The Council is emphasising that all the existing bidders – indeed any community, voluntary or not-for profit group – still has the opportunity to have their bid carried forward, or to put in a fresh offer to acquire the building as part of next round of bidding.
The Council took the decision at Policy Committee in July not to proceed with any of the bids received from the Third Sector, and instead agreed to offer the property on the open market and to invite bids from all sectors. The next round is due to start in the early autumn and all bids received would then be assessed by the Council at a formal committee meeting.
Reading Borough Council continues to recognise the importance of the mural as a culturally historic icon, particularly to the African-Caribbean community.
The mural is showing signs of deterioration and the Council is arranging for it to be professionally cleaned and surveyed. The Council remains fully committed to securing the mural’s future and, to that end, also plans to meet with the original mural artist to discuss the future treatment of the valued artwork. One possible future option may be to digitally capture the mural image and reproduce it, as was suggested by one of the original bidders.
Councillor Jo Lovelock, Reading Borough Council Leader, said:
“The Council is reiterating that any of the existing community bidders – or indeed any other third sector group – would be welcome to bid for the building as part this next round.
“All offers and the associated organisations would be fully evaluated and would take account of any community value, as well as the financial offer itself.
“For a number of years now Government funding for public services has failed to keep pace with demand for Council services, meaning every local authority has had to make difficult decisions to close the funding gap. In Reading funding will have been cut by £57.5 million between 2010 and 2020. By offering the site on the open market, the Council aims to attract new bids which will provide us with a full range of options upon which to make an informed decision based on best value, but that process does not preclude bids from community groups.
“I am aware that there is an inaccurate perception in the public domain that one of the original bidders, Aspire, has offered the Council a large sum of money to buy the building. Whilst the Council cannot divulge the full detail of the bid, I want to clarify that Aspire has not offered Reading Borough Council any money to acquire the property.
“Importantly, the Council is also clear that it expects any offers received in the next round to include proposals to secure the future of the mural.”
In July 2016 the Council offered voluntary and community organisations a five-month window to bid for the former Central Club building. Commercial developers or ‘for profit’ organisations were not permitted to bid at this stage and the Council also insisted the iconic mural was retained as part of any proposal. At July Policy Committee this year, the Council decided not to proceed with any of the third sector bidders as it could not be satisfied that any of the bids received represented best value for Council Tax payers in the current financial circumstances.
The bidding process meant all bids received were confidential. Given the subsequent public interest in Aspire’s bid however, the Council has asked Aspire if it would waive confidentiality, but the Council’s request has to date not been granted.