Anger over plans for cafés and bars in historic listed Skipton town hall

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A row has broken out following a bid to change the use of part of Skipton’s historic town hall.

Craven Council wants permission for the Grade II listed building’s main ground floor rooms, which front onto High Street, to be used as commercial units allowing them to be used for retail, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafés and drinking establishments.

But Coun Polly English has formally requested that the application be withdrawn.

Coun English, who represents Skipton West ward, said: “I am incensed at this planning application coming before this committee. At no time has there been member involvement or agreement that this is the way we wish to move forward on re-developing the town hall. How dare officers take the lead on this matter, once more ignoring members in this way?

“I formally request, as a Skipton councillor who has listened to the will of the people in the demands that our town hall remains for community use, that this application is immediately withdrawn and that a further meeting be called to discuss the way forward for this building, before any planning applications are applied for. And then, and only then, when we have the agreement of councillors that any change of use is sought.

“A recent members’ briefing was held to discuss the town hall and options for it, at no point was it indicated that a planning application, such as this, was in the pipeline.”

But members of Craven Council’s Planning Committee will be advised to grant planning permission when they meet tomorrow.

Craven Council leader Coun Chris Knowles-Fitton said: “In order that we can go forward we need planning approval for a number of possible end uses. I would like to see the town hall provide revenue.

“There are areas on the ground floor that have potential for a number of uses and we need to increase revenue because it’s been haemorrhaging money over the years.

“A lot of money needs to be spent on it. We are in touch with the Heritage Lottery and we shall be putting in a bid for substantial sums of money. The town hall is an iconic building in Skipton and Craven and needs to be brought up to a condition of which the residents of Craven and our visitors can be proud. This application is simply designed to cover that requirement.”

Craven Council wants a “blanket” approval to allow the ground floor to be used for all or any of the named uses to operate.

One of the rooms is used by the Tourist Information Centre and another is used two days a week by a recruitment company as temporary office accommodation. A third unit is disused and a fourth is mostly vacant.

A report to be considered by councillors says it is proposed to create four retail units.

Skipton Town Council has objected to the application because they say “members of Craven Council as owners of the property have not authorised it”.

The town council says its own members have resolved that the building should be a community asset and claims the application “contravenes this policy”. However English Heritage has welcomed the proposal to find a new use or uses for the building.

The report says that “the building would for the most part remain within community use. Specifically, the application is limited to the ground floor rooms that front onto the High Street and is speculative seeking changes of use intended to make the building more versatile and viable in the long term.”

Paul Ellis, Craven Council’s director of services, said: “We are keeping members informed and we have every intention of ensuring that the building is maintained as a community facility long into the future.”