Civic Centre’s future is a poser, says Observer

Comment by Observer

It is time to face the facts about Uckfield Civic Centre. It has been a “problem child” for ten years or more and now some hard decisions must be made.

Talk at this week’s town council meeting was of losses with one councillor saying the enterprise would have gone bust, if it had been in private hands. See the UckfieldNews.com report here

I think it is worth separating the two main strands of the Civic Centre’s business.

There is Luxfords restaurant and the hire of halls and rooms, with their associated costs.uckfield_civic_centre

The town council is to find out whether any private business is willing to take over the running of the Civic Centre operations, maybe standalone or even in partnership with the council.

If someone comes in and says they can provide the same (or better) service with no horrendous price hikes, the council – that will be the one elected on May 7 – would be wise to bite off their hand.

Two distinct operations

To my mind, you have two distinct operations at the Civic Centre: the room hire and the restaurant.

I have never understood what a local authority is doing running a restaurant in a town that is over-run with eateries. Luxfords does offer a distinct service from most other places but has been unable to carve out a winning niche because the market for that type of restaurant, especially at lunchtime, no longer exists.

On the room hire side, the Civic Centre has been faced with increased competition. A number of other room/venues are available in the town centre from organisations that welcome the revenue but do not depend on it.

Cherry on the cake

The halls are there to serve the owners’ specific purposes and other income is the cherry on the cake.

Hotels have a similar offering, usually with free guaranteed car parking. A potential problem with the Civic Centre is that the venue cannot 100 per cent promise to provide parking for every delegate’s vehicle.

Cutbacks by businesses

Businesses have cut back on seminars and workshops in recent years.

More and more companies rely on webinars, viewed on a computer, to spread the message.

The number of physical get-togethers with the lavish provision  of a sit-down lunch for business delegates is virtually a thing of the past.

A sandwich, pork pie and a cake with a piece of fruit is about as far as it goes these days. Obviously, the reduction in room hire affects Luxfords’ revenues.

Business taken elsewhere

The breakdown of room usage shows that the majority of hirings are to local organisations, qualifying for a discount. Some local groups still, however, find the prices steep and have taken their business elsewhere.

I suggest the new council will be faced with making some tough decisions.

For my money, I would keep the room hire side of the operation because it does offer a variety of spaces suitable to many uses – from concerts to a room just big enough for a small committee to meet.

Subsidy: a price we may ‘need to pay’

It looks as if the council taxpayer may have to subsidise this. It is probably the price we need to pay for such rooms to be available.

They are an amenity for Uckfield. Commercial usage should be at the “going rate” and the discount limited to people and organisations living or based in the town itself.

The restaurant should be run to make a profit to help subsidise the room hire side of the operation. If it can do that, it has a place in the town. If not, the time is fast approaching to pull down the shutters.

Outside caterers can always come in to service the events at the Civic Centre.

NETWORK RAIL PLATFORM EXTENSION PLAN

I will benefit from longer trains on the Uckfield Line, especially on peak services down from London Bridge. However, I have opposed Network Rail’s plan to access the railway via the Hempstead Meadows Nature Reserve.

Uckfield Town Council’s decision to refuse permission for the reserve to be used for a temporary haul road is welcomed.

See also:

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