Concern about the future of the Village Hall.

At the Hollingbourne Parish Council Meeting on 12th February in the Cardwell Pavilion, the Parish Council received a report from the Village Hall Committee about their January meeting with the landlords, EI Group PLC when they were informed that that they may be given a new five year lease on the Hall sometime over the next year. The Village Hall Committee, who manage the Hall on behalf of the Parish Council, has decided that the present 50 year old Hall is no longer viable long term because of the lack of security of tenure.

The present Hall in Windmill Lane was constructed in 1968 with funds raised locally following a fire in 1965 at a previous Village Hall on a site in Upper Street opposite to the Old Vicarage. At the time the new Village Hall site was owned by Whitbread who granted a 28 year lease at a peppercorn rent. Enterprise Inns PLC, now EI Group PLC, renewed the lease in 1996 for 20 years at £350 per year but removed part of the car park in front of the Hall which meant that the former Pre-School Play Area at the rear of the Hall had to be turned into a car park. The Pre School Play Group had previously moved to the Cardwell Pavilion.

Until last year the licensees of the Windmill PH in front of the Hall allowed Village Hall users and others to share the Windmill PH car park on an informal basis. Last year an £85 charge for daytime users of the car park who were not Windmill PH customers was introduced which put pressure on the few parking spaces at the rear of Hall. This change also affected other businesses in Eyhorne Street and it is understood that it was one factor leading to the closure of the long established hairdressers in October 2018.

The 20 year lease signed in 1996 expired on 21st August 2016 and the Village Hall Committee has been told that they presently have a rolling lease and that any new five year lease will be at £1000 per year and that if notice is given,  the Village Hall Committee and ultimately the Parish Council will not be responsible any site clearance costs.  The Hall is used daily by local groups and organisations and has a main hall with a stage, two smaller rooms including a chapel, a foyer, a kitchen, and toilet facilities. Such a short lease arrangement also makes it difficult to apply for grants to improve the Hall.

The Village Hall Committee has requested that any new lease will have a twelve month notice period at the end of the five years although this is yet to be agreed by the landlords. It is understood that one reason for the delay is that EI Group wish to sign a new lease for the Windmill PH first.

On the basis of the information that has been provided by EI Group PLC, the Village Hall Committee has decided that Hollingbourne will ultimately require a brand new Hall on a new site with adequate parking. The Committee is currently looking at possible designs and subject to further investigation members of the Parish Council believe that the cost of a new Hall with parking and excluding land costs will be around £1 million with most of the costs being raised from within Hollingbourne although some small grants may be available.

At the Parish Council Meeting the possibility of using some of the land on the Lance Memorial Playing Field was considered although space may be limited and it is less convenient for pedestrian access than the present Hall. No other site is immediately obvious although in 1968 the former Station Goods Yard in Eyhorne Street was considered.

Another issue is that any fund raising for a new Hall might compete with the recently launched Project 100 by the Hollingbourne Meadows Trust to raise £250,000 for a WW1 Avenue of Remembrance and £100,000 for the Royal British Legion.

The present Village Hall is alongside the Windmill Lane Public Footpath which runs down the side of the EI Group owned Windmill PH from the Eyhorne Street Conservation Area. Part of the Lane is owned by EI Group who control the access rights to a proposed development of 10 large detached houses in the field to the west of the Lane which was previously outside of the Village Envelope. Maidstone Borough Council has designated the site as suitable for development even though the Footpath is only 3 metres wide in places and the plans have been opposed by the Parish Council, the Village Hall Committee, and many local residents and others. Based on other houses sold locally, it is expected that the houses may sell for up to £1 million.

The section of the Lane actually running alongside the development is not owned by EI Group and has been maintained by local residents and the Village Hall Committee on a pro bono basis. It is understood that in 1968 that the Village Hall Committee obtained an easement from Leeds Castle over this section of the Lane in order that users of the Hall could gain vehicular access.

There has been local speculation that EI Group may have delayed renewing the Village Hall lease pending the planning application which could set a precedent for further development at the rear of the Windmill PH.

The Minutes of the Parish Council Meeting will be published in due course.

Pictured below is the Village Hall with the possible housing development site on the right.

Hollingbourne Village Hall – Summer 2017.