Saint Michaels Rooms Update

This update provides a background to the St Michael’s Rooms re-development project, the current position and the next steps.

Saint Michaels Rooms occupy an iconic place in Framlingham both in terms of geographic location at the traditional heart of the town and in relation to the social life of the community. Many of the events that have marked the contemporary history of the town have been held in the Rooms.

The building is now over 100 years old and is in need of significant re-development. A survey carried out last year indicated that rebuilding the Rooms would be the best viable option to allow its continued use.

As part of a wider exploration of community space, Framlingham Town Council began exploring options around the re-development of the Rooms with the Parochial Church Council early last year. A working group was established composed of councillors, PCC representatives and others drawn from the community. An outline plan was drawn up which envisaged the Town Council leading on the re-development. The land that the Rooms stand on would be leased to the Council by the PCC and the new building would be built using funding from District and Town Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy funds.

In June 2018, the Town Council supported the application for CIL funds from the District Council for £700K which was successful. It was anticipated that an additional £140K would be provided from local CIL funds.

Despite a significant amount of work being undertaken by the working group the project stalled earlier this year because the Town Council and PCC were unable to agree the details of a framework lease. The respective legal and financial obligations of the PCC and Town Council could not be reconciled.

At this point The District Council was updated on progress and it was anticipated that their CIL funding for the project would be withdrawn. However, instead it was suggested that the PCC could lead on the re-development and directly receive the District CIL funding. This would remove the need for a framework lease between the Town Council and the PCC, the main stumbling block to the re-development. It would also remove any ongoing financial or other obligations for the running of the new Rooms from the Town Council.

The District Council have made a requirement of their CIL funding a Memorandum of Understanding between the Town Council and PCC. This will describe the requirement for the PCC to deliver a project that will serve the whole community in the town as set down in the original CIL application. The MOU is also designed to demonstrate the Town Council’s support for the project. Subject the MOU being agreed the District Council will allocate the £700K of CIL funding to the project.

The original project anticipated a spend of £840K on the re-development. As noted above, £140K was to be provided from the Town Council’s local CIL funds. £840K is still the projected cost of the project and the proposal is that the shortfall in funding will be closed by the PCC directly contributing £70K towards the re-development and the PCC will also apply to the Town Council for £70K of match funding from the local CIL.

It is the position of the Town Council that before it supports and signs the MOU and allocates local CIL funds it should assure itself that the PCC’s plans for running the new community space are realistic and viable. The PCC are currently producing a business plan and the Town Council must be satisfied that it is viable.

Both the MOU and business plan are being drafted. It is anticipated that the completed documents will go to the Town Council’s Finance and Strategy meeting in June. If that committee is satisfied that the documents meet the Town Council and District requirements, they will go to the July Full Town Council meeting with a supporting motion for debate and decision. The debate will be preceded by a presentation by the PCC on their plans.

At the Full Town Council meeting on 16th May the following motion passed:

‘To support St Michael’s PCC to develop a Memorandum of Understanding and Business Plan to the satisfaction of the Town Council, with the aim to develop St Michael’s Rooms and receive CIL funding allocated by Suffolk Coastal District Council’.

This was designed to provide confidence for Councillors and PCC representatives working on the MOU that the Town Council supported the course of work being undertaken before the Town Council decides whether to allocate £70K of CIL funding.

If the Town Council agrees at its meeting in July to support the PCC plan to re-develop St Michael’s Rooms, the anticipated outcomes will be:

The PCC will lead on the re-development of what will be called ‘St Michaels Community Rooms’;

The building will continue to provide a community space for the town. The split of use between PCC use and wider community events will be 15% PCC events and 85% wider community events;

The building will be of a similar size and in the same location as the current St Michaels Rooms;

The building will be built to contemporary standards and provide similar facilities to the current Rooms but modernised;

There will be no ongoing financial obligations for Framlingham Town Council after the local CIL funds are allocated;

The St Michaels Community Rooms will be designed and built to deliver a community space for another 100 years.

ST MICHAELS ROOMS PROJECT DOCUMENTS

Q1.      How did the Castle Community Rooms project come about?
Having lost so many community spaces in recent years, Framlingham Town Council identified that it was essential to retain all remaining town centre community rooms. St Michaels Rooms was considered at risk of being closed in the foreseeable future due to deterioration and safety issues, and in 2018 the Town Council identified the Church site as a realistic opportunity to provide a modern, new, environmentally sound community facility for the town, a key priority in the local Neighbourhood Plan.

Initially Framlingham Town Council proposed to lease the land from St Michael’s Church and sublease it to a new Community Hall Charity. The Town Council obtained a grant from the District Council of £700,000 towards the costs of the project.

As a result of financial and legal challenges, and following discussions with the District Council, the Town Council asked St Michael’s to take over the delivery and management of the project, taking forward the design that the council had already selected. The church agreed to help and take forward the project for the community.

Q2.     Why do you need to rebuild Saint Michaels rooms? What’s wrong with the present building, it still looks okay and is part of the character of the town?
The present St Michael’s Rooms building is 130 years old and is sadly no longer fit for purpose. There are many problems with the structure, with subsidence (particularly the kitchen end), extensive rot in the timber frame, all the window frames are rotten and all the rooms, including the flat roofs, need to be replaced. We are quickly approaching the day that it will not be able to be used and will need to close its doors.

The option to rebuild was only considered after the Parochial Church Council obtained a full structural survey report saying a rebuild was the only sensible use of funds for the long-term viability.

It is important to get across that a decision had to be made on what was the most prudent way forward, as significant public money would be involved in either case – large expenditure to fix short term, and still face the need to do a new build in the future, or new build now, at a larger initial cost and get the benefit of higher quality facilities now.

Q3       Why does Framlingham need a new meeting place?
As Framlingham grows and evolves, its community grows ever stronger and there are few who would disagree that our town needs a fantastic space to gather and be together.  Never has this been more important following a year of COVID restrictions and forced separation.

The Castle Community Rooms will offer an environmentally friendly, 21st century space designed and built to a high quality and robust specification. A venue which, while owned by the church, remains a fully inclusive space for all people from all walks of life to be used as best befits a community like Framlingham.

Q4.     How will the new building be better than the old one?
The proposed design of the Castle Community Rooms is considerably more eco-friendly than the existing building, which loses up to 10 times more heat than the new one.  The new design also provides more flexible spaces to accommodate diverse usage. It’s a modern building for an evolving community and will serve the town well for the next hundred years.

Q5.     Who will own the building?
St Michael’s will own the building just as it currently owns St Michael’s Rooms, and owns the land on which it will be built. The legal body for the church is St Michael’s Parochial Church Council which is a registered Charity and is committed to the building being available for the community of Framlingham. The grants it is receiving are given on that basis.

The church as owner of the building will be responsible for the upkeep and running of the building including the liability of any problems that may arise over the forthcoming years.

Q6.      Will anyone be able to hire it?
Yes. We wish to facilitate use by a range of users so hire charges will be at advantageous rates to local organisations with higher charges to commercial organisations.

As part of an agreement with the Town Council there is a commitment that usage of the Community Rooms by the Parochial Church Council will be for no more than 15% of the time that the rooms are available for hire. Like the building that it replaces, this acknowledges that the Castle Community Rooms are for the use of the whole community including the St Michael’s Church.

Q7.      What kinds of activities will take place?
It is envisaged that a wide range of activities will be able to take place in the building including clubs, education, health and fitness, meeting social needs, dance and drama, film nights, young people’s activities, exhibitions, private bookings such as parties and dinners, and commercial sales. The separate meeting room will offer opportunities for small scale and more personal gatherings.

Q8.      Where will the funds from the hire costs go?
All hire payments will be used to cover the costs of running the Castle Community Rooms. A new bank account will be created to manage all income and expenditure. If income exceeds expenditure in a year then the excess will be used to offset any losses from previous years and then contributions will be made to funds for maintenance reserves, replacements, new equipment and improvements. In the unlikely event that surplus income is realised, an agreement with the Town Council allows it to be allocated at the discretion of the Parochial Church Council.

Q9.      Will the hall be big enough?
The hall will be able to accommodate over 100 people seated which will meet the great majority of community needs. Indeed, it is quite possible that there will be a greater demand for the space available than can be accommodated and the priority for this facility is seen to be the social and community needs of the town.

There may be some entertainment or sporting events that will need a larger hall, but the Castle Community Rooms are not aimed at these bigger events.

Q10.   How much parking will there be?
On the site 17 car parking spaces are to be provided together with spaces for bikes and motorbikes. This includes parking for those with a disability. One Electric Vehicle Charging bay is also included.

Additional land belonging to St Michael’s Church behind the new building may also be able to be used as parking in the future.

Q11.   Couldn’t the site be used as a public car park?
The land has been donated to St Michael’s under a restricted covenant. This covenant includes a Community Centre but does not include the land being used as a public car park. There is therefore no scope to use the land as car parking.

Q12.   Where is the money coming to pay for a new building?
The great news is that £935,000 has already been secured for the project:

  • East Suffolk Council is providing the majority of the required funds. They have committed £700,000 from their Community Infrastructure Funds. These funds are levied from developers of new housing in the area.
  • Framlingham Town Council is providing £126,000 using its own Community Infrastructure Funds.
  • St Michael’s Parochial Church Council has raised £109,000 for the project through the Church.
  • St Michael’s has also created a fundraising team to start to consider how to raise the remaining sums required. This team is formed from the local community and includes professionals and experts in fundraising for this kind of project. These funds will be raised from grants, individuals and local fundraising initiatives.

Q13.   Couldn’t Council funds be used for a building on another site in Framlingham?
East Suffolk Council has said on more than one occasion that, if this project does not go ahead, their £700,000 will return to their Community Infrastructure Fund. Any project within the ESC area, from north of Lowestoft to Felixstowe, could then bid for these funds. The £700,000 grant is only ring fenced for the Castle Community Rooms site and could not be transferred to any other Framlingham project.

Q14.   When will a new building be finished?
The project will shortly be sent to a number of construction companies allowing them to tender for the work. A competitive tendering process will ensure that the best value for money is achieved. We anticipated that construction would take at least 12 months after the time that the funds are in place allowing the project to proceed.

Q15.   How much is this going to cost?
Our Quantity Surveyor has advised that the new building will cost around £1.2 million. This construction costs will be confirmed through the tendering process.

In addition to construction costs we need to budget for the professional fees of an architect, structural engineer, mechanical and electrical engineer and other specialists also have to be paid. Their skills are critical to getting a building that is fit for purpose and meets legal requirements.

As well as the typical cost for a state of the art project in a conservation area, the budget includes car parking, drainage, and purchasing furniture and equipment.

A contingency sum is also included to safeguard against unforeseen problems which are not quantifiable at the design stage.  Due to location, one such example for this project may be the discovery of archaeological remains which could require a costly investigation.

Q16.   Why is it costing so much?
The Royal institute of Chartered Surveyors publishes a buildings cost index to enable costs to be compared between projects. They provide figures for Community Centres and specifically for a timber framed building of the size of the Castle Community Rooms.

The estimated cost of our building using good quality materials to suit the Conservation Area and provide robust and attractive internal finishes is still less than the top 25% of comparable small community halls that have been build in recent years.

In summary this project is no more expensive than many similar community buildings.  The budget has been scrutinised at every level and all parties are assured that it provides value for money for a future proof development that will serve the Framlingham community for years and years to come.

Q17.   Who can I talk to to ask more questions about the project?
If you would like to ask a questions please email us at: framparish@gmail.com

Q18.   I would like to help, who do I contact?
A working group has been formed to manage the project and to consider how to raise the outstanding funds required. If you would like to help please email us at: framparish@gmail.com

Q19.   When will more information be available?
Regular updates will be posted to the Framlingham Town Council and St Michael’s Church websites as and when new information is available.