WITNEY'S Corn Exchange could still reopen by the end of the year, despite the rejection of a bid for a £1.8m Lottery grant.

Witney Town Council was told on Thursday that the Heritage Lottery Fund had turned down its application, due to a “high level” of competition.

But the council’s public halls committee chairman, Roger Curry, said the council had enough money to refurbish the Grade II-listed building in Market Square and reopen it as an arts venue and community cinema.

It has been closed since November 2011, when a safety inspection uncovered serious safety problems. And asbestos was found during further checks earlier this year.

The Lottery grant would gone towards a future extension at the rear of the building, including a museum and meeting rooms.

Mr Curry said: “The council has funds available to do a significant amount of redevelopment, to enable it to open by the end of the year.

“The Lottery money was part of a long-term project and won’t stop any of our short-term plans to get the hall open, so we can get an income.

“It will be a better hall when it reopens, simply because it will have been refurbished, so I can’t see why we shouldn’t get the same or more income as the last time it was open.

“I’m very sure that once it’s open, we will get additional funds from other sources, as it’s easier to raise money when you can show it’s viable.”

Once structural and asbestos issues have been resolved by specialist contractors, internal refurbishment work will start later this year.

The Langdale Hall, in Langdale Gate, has been put on sale by the council to fund the Corn Exchange refurbishment, but no bids have yet been made to agents acting for the council.

Mr Curry said: “The council has made it clear it can only afford one hall in the centre of the town.

“A public consultation showed that between the two, the public wanted to keep the Corn Exchange open, rather than the Langdale Hall.

“By combining activities into one hall, we will improve the finances.”

Mr Curry said that the public halls committee would meet to discuss alternative fundraising solutions for the extension project, adding: “We don’t have that money, so over the years we will have to have a slower development plan, but it’s still our intention to continue the project.”

Stuart McLeod, the head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South East, said: “We recognise the historic importance of the Grade II-listed Witney Corn Exchange and its important links to the town’s trading heritage.

“However, demand for our funding is high. Sadly, this means that we were unable to support every grant application we looked at on the day.”