September 18 2014 Latest news:
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
The closed tourist information centre in Bury St Edmunds is still costing the borough council rent, it has emerged.
St Edmundsbury Borough Council announced the shock decision to close the award-winning centre at 6 Angel Hill in April, with it shutting its doors on June 1.
But since then the borough has still been paying rent on the ground-floor premises which used to house the TIC, at a rate of £1,250 a month.
The council has come under fire for shutting the centre and moving to a network of tourist information points (TIPs), with particular criticism over the timing of the closure - the start of the busy tourist season.
This newspaper has discovered that the lease of the TIC unit has four years and nine months remaining at a total running cost of £45,000 a year, which includes the £15,000 a year rent.
John Popham, chairman of the Bury St Edmunds Town Trust, which owns the freehold for the building, said the onus was on the borough council to find a replacement tenant.
Karen Hurden, chairman of the Bury Society, said it was “incomprehensible” the borough was still paying rent for the former TIC premises.
And Green councillor Julia Wakelam said this showed the decision to close the centre had not been thought out properly.
Mrs Hurden said: “This much-loved service in a prime area for visitors has now stood empty since June at a cost to the borough and will continue to do so until the council fill it.
“If it was not for the assistance of the cathedral there would be no tourist information point on Angel Hill, and all the time the old one lies empty.”
Ms Wakelam, who is a commercial property lawyer, said the borough council should have had a tenant in place for the TIC unit before shutting it.
“All this should have been in place before they shut, and given in particular the timing of shutting just as the tourist season was about to start. But in my view there are advantages of moving the tourist information service because it means people will go into the town a bit more.”
The main tourist information centre in Bury is now at the Apex, with TIPs included at the cathedral and Moyse’s Hall Museum, as well as other locations.
Margaret Charlesworth, who volunteers at the cathedral’s TIP, said it was a “great shame” the TIC on Angel Hill had closed.
While she could understand the reasons behind it, she said it was “too hasty and certainly not at the beginning of the summer”.
But she said was behind councillor Sarah Stamp, St Edmundsbury Borough Council cabinet member for leisure, culture and heritage, adding the closure had been a delegated officer decision.
Jonathan Lloyd, a chartered surveyor dealing with commercial property at Hazells in the town, said the firm - which is marketing the former TIC unit for the borough council - had seen a reasonable amount of interest in the property from businesses, but no firm proposals yet. He said the council was not paying vacant rates on the property as it is listed.
A borough council spokeswoman said the council was improving the way its tourist service is delivered in Bury.
She added footfall at the TIC had dropped by 40% over the last two years with an accompanying fall in income.
“A commercial decision was taken to negotiate the surrender of the building in the early summer to take advantage of a buoyant local economy, which will result in an overall saving to council taxpayers of around £200,000. It was agreed with the owner, Bury St Edmunds Town Trust, to hand over the property to the agent in good repair, with liability for the rent for only as long as it remained unoccupied.”
Mr Popham said the first and second floors of the building were being let to a tenant and would become a home.