Witney Corn Exchange restoration work may run into next spring

thisisoxfordshire: Witney Corn Exchange Witney Corn Exchange

THE Corn Exchange in Witney may not be available for function bookings until April next year, town councillors were told on Monday.

The council says it aims to have the Market Square building reopened as a community hall and performing arts and cinema venue by the end of the year, but said it had to be “realistic” about when it would available to be used for events such as wedding receptions.

The Grade II-listed building was closed suddenly in November 2011 after a safety inspection uncovered serious problems.

At a meeting of the council’s public halls committee on Monday evening, chairman Roger Curry said: “We’re working hard to get it open by the end of the year.

“There may be some slippage because something might arise in the construction work.

“We think it might be realistic to say April as a date when we could say we’re reasonably confident that we could accept a wedding booking.

“We can keep using Langdale Hall through April and longer, so there will be an overlap.”

Mr Curry said the Corn Exchange would have the same facilities as now available at the Langdale Hall, which is to be put up for sale “shortly” by property agents to help fund refurbishment of the Corn Exchange, which will get a bar, a new stage and kitchen.

Work to reopen the building was delayed after asbestos was found during another safety inspection earlier this year but work to remove the hazardous material, using specialist contractors, is expected to begin next month, finally clearing the way for the rest of the work to start.

Town clerk Sharon Groth told the committee that it was a “considerable blow” to lose out on £1.8m in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a second phase of refurbishment work.

This could include an extension, with meeting rooms and a museum, but she said the fund’s decision meant the council would not be tied to a “prescriptive project” as part of any funding agreement.

In a report to the meeting, she added that it was hoped the Langdale Hall would find a buyer quickly, once it is put on the market.

Talks about the potential redevelopment of the site, in Langdale Place, have taken place with West Oxfordshire District Council.

She said: “Already there is quite a lot of interest, so it is hoped that it will realise a good final sale price.”

The council’s personnel sub-committee will consider at a meeting later in the summer whether to employ a professional fundraiser to help bring in money for the Corn Exchange.

Another idea to be discussed is whether a management company or charity should be set up to run the building on behalf of the council when it reopens.

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