Big Society venture for Midhurst library

Midhurst Library
Midhurst Library

HOPES are high a permanent home could be found for Midhurst Museum – as well as extra space for the community to enjoy.

Leading the way to the ‘Big Society’, Midhurst is now planning to take over the historic library building in the centre of the town.

It would provide new offices and meeting space for Midhurst Town Council, a permanent home for the museum and office space for the rural town manager.

It would also give shared exhibition space for community organisations such as the South Pond Group, the photographic club and Time Bank as well as community group meeting space.

It is envisaged it would, in addition, become a north of the Downs satellite space for the Pallant House Gallery. The library is set to move into the new Grange Leisure Centre next year leaving empty the present 17th century West Sussex County Council-owned building which is valued at some £350,000.

WSCC’s original plan was to sell it to recoup the cost of moving.

But John Quilter, chairman of Midhurst Town Council’s premises group, told fellow councillors: “Money for this has been found from another source and this has opened a possibility of Midhurst making a community asset transfer application as an alternative to the building being sold.

“Given the value, it is virtually certain the building will become private housing if it is sold and yet another part of the historic old town will be lost to the community.”

The application for a community asset transfer is being made by the Midhurst Community Partnership (MCP), chaired by Mr Quilter.

If successful, it would mean the county council would offer the partnership a lease for an initial 20 years at a peppercorn rent.

Mr Quilter said the cost of the project was estimated at some £40,000 in three phases.

“For Midhurst Town Council it is a long-term solution to our requirement for town centre offices,” said Mr Quilter.

“We would be fulfilling our ambition to provide support for community organisations by becoming an ‘anchor tenant’ of the community partnership in the project.”

“We would create something which would live on long after we cease to exist,” he said and a chance to “look back and say Midhurst Town Council stepped up to the plate.”

He said it was envisaged rental costs for the town council would be close to those currently incurred when all room rental and other costs were taken in account.

“I think it’s an exciting opportunity and something we should pursue,” said the Rev David Coote.

Town councillors agreed to support MCP in its community asset transfer bid and also agreed in principle to relocate.

They said the premises group should actively support MCP in further talks.