Will new investor bring weddings to Worden Hall?
Worden Hall could be opened up for weddings and functions, as South Ribble Borough Council enters into further talks about its future.
The authority has selected a preferred bidder to invest in the historic building after inviting expressions of interest earlier this year.
Papers presented to a meeting of the council’s cabinet suggest that the selected applicant is a charity which also wants to use the 18th century hall as its headquarters.
The bidder was given priority status after their application was assessed as being “closely aligned” to the council’s own plans for the building – which include marketing it as a venue for weddings, civil ceremonies and business and social functions.
The organisation has also proposed carrying out internal refurbishment work – in consultation with conservation officers – and will match the council’s own investment into refurbishing the property.
But deputy leader of the opposition Labour group, Mick Titherington, said the cabinet report presented a “limited number” of options.
“Worden Hall has been laying idle for almost six years. It’s been described as ‘the jewel in the crown of South Ribble’,” Coun Titherington said.
“I don’t think enough [consideration has been given] to the council developing the site as a revenue earner and also providing social value.”
The meeting heard that a separate consultancy report advising the council about possible options for Worden Hall will be delivered later this week. Deputy chief executive for regeneration, Gregg Stott, said that discussions with the preferred bidder did not “rule out” any other options.
“We are negotiating…on the basis of getting the right result for Worden Park. It would be prudent to progress those discussions,” Mr Stott said.
Cabinet member for corporate support and assets, Colin Clark said he had been “hounded” at council committee meetings about what was being done to bring the hall back into use.
“I promised we would [bring] something forward as quickly as possible and this is one of the ways [of doing that]. We’ve got a long way to go – this is just the start,” Coun Clark said.
Applicants were told that the council was "under no obligation" to accept any individual proposal and that the authority could withdraw from the process at any time.
A total of six expressions of interest were received about Worden Hall and were then narrowed down to two.
The preferred bidder has a turnover of more than £500,000 and has been operating for over 30 years.
The alternative bidder – who proposed using the hall as an arts and crafts centre, along with other community uses – has a turnover of under £50,000 and has been operational for under 10 years.