Battle is on to bring Stafford's Shire Hall back
The historic Shire Hall could be brought back to life as an arts centre say a consortium, which has now lodged proposals with the council.
The hall was shut last month with the council lining up plans for a £4 million new Staffordshire History Centre at a different location.
But the Stafford Heritage Consortium has now sent an outline of the group’s proposal to the Staffordshire County Council to convert the building into an arts hub and museum to the county’s heritage.
The consortium is asking for the Shire Hall for 20 years on a peppercorn rent.
If given the go-ahead, it would create a space for local artists to showcase their work and highlight the heritage and history of the town.
The plan, which would be carried out in stages, is to open a gift shop and art gallery and begin to rent studio spaces to artists.
The consortium would also seek to obtain planning consent for a new café as well as drafting applications for grants towards creating a Staffordshire museum within the Shire Hall – which it claims could replace the plan for the £4m Staffordshire History centre.
Businessman Ben Sandy, who is part of the consortium with his father Nigel Sandy and Hugh Barnes, said: “We believe that our plans will be a giant step forward in regenerating Stafford Town Centre and that the benefits that Stafford’s Shire Hall Heritage Consortium can bring, will overwhelmingly outweigh the ‘cost saving measure’ proposed by the County Council.
“The running costs of the Shire Hall are the main reason for the demise of its current use.
"As the council is responsible for the maintenance of the building whether it is open or not, it would seem sensible for the building to be used, rather than make Stafford’s premier building into another closed rotting folly.
"Stafford has already lost most of its historic areas and buildings so we must strive to keep what’s left for the use of the people of Stafford and to encourage visitor numbers into Stafford.
“Our group already has extensive experience in opening and running similar ventures and we are willing to put our expertise in making the Shire Hall a premier venue for Stafford.”
Philip Atkins, leader of Staffordshire County Council, said: “We received the consortium’s suggestion this week and will pass it to the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, who we have asked to explore all possible future uses of Shire Hall, the benefits and risks of different approaches and how they might be funded.
"With the county council spending more money than ever before caring for the old, the young and the vulnerable it is essential that any proposal can pay its own way and not place a burden on Staffordshire taxpayers.
“Also the suggestion that Shire Hall could house the Staffordshire History Centre is not feasible.
"The fragile documents and manuscripts which we hold need to be preserved in heat and humidity controlled strong rooms.
"The Shire Hall building would need significant alterations to ensure that the floors can cope with the weight of these strong rooms.
"As it is a Grade II* listed protected building, planning rules will not allow the many changes that would be required.”
The building, which housed an art gallery and a multi-sensory room and used to host the University of Wolverhampton and Stafford library, cost £250,000 a year to keep open and was closed on July 3.
Supporters even held a vigil outside on the day it shut. Experts from Prince Charles’ Prince’s Regeneration Trust charity were appointed to consider the future of the historic building’s future.
The trust was commissioned by Staffordshire County Council to assess possible future uses of the building, the benefits and risks of different approaches and how they might be funded.