Selling Leamington’s Pump Room would be “a step too far” say councillors who have halted the progress of discussions surrounding the sale of the iconic building.
As part of efforts to make savings, Warwick District Council’s executive committee last month agreed to spend up to £30,000 on ‘market testing’ the commercial potential for exploring other ways of using the Pump Room, as well as the town hall and the Jephson Gardens restaurant - all of which are currently run by the council.
Council figures show that the Pump Room in the year leading up to March 2014 is estimated to cost council taxpayers £876,000.
But the council’s overview and scrutiny committee, a cross-party group of councillors who examine and offer guidance on matters before decisions are made by senior councillors, have ‘called in’ this decision - meaning that it must now be debated at a meeting attended by all district councillors before any further action can be taken.
Overview and scrutiny committee member Cllr Bill Gifford said: “What we have got in the Pump Room complex is a historic building that has been done up at public expense and turned into a purpose-built library - the most heavily used library in Warwickshire - and a fantastic museum and gallery.
“The history of Leamington as a spa town is in the building.
“We have considerable doubts about the council even considering selling it off.”
Describing the Pump Room as “the beating heart of Leamington”, Cllr Gifford pointed out that £7 million of public money has been spent on the building, adding: “It would be very unwise to sell it.
“If it were to be turned over to private ownership, who knows what the new owners might turn it into. A sexual entertainment venue? That would be a crying shame for a building so central to Leamington.
“We are trying to make it quite clear that this is a step too far.”
But council leader Cllr Andrew Mobbs said: “We are saying let’s give our officers a free hand to see how we can improve value for money in a project which is currently costing taxpayers more than £850,000 a year.
“We would be foolish not to look into options for how we can cut down on a figure like that.
“We need a common sense approach here to look at all the best options for everyone. Of course we value all of our heritage sites and their future in the district and we are in no way trying to diminish that.”
At last month’s executive meeeting, Cllr Michael Coker even suggested that a commercial owner may be able to “bring back the spa” to the Pump Room, which used to house a spa facility and swimming pool before being redeveloped in the late 1990s.
He said: “I don’t think there is any fear in my mind in it becoming Tesco or anything of that nature.”
The overview and scrutiny committee can call in any decision made by the council which has not yet been implemented - a way of holding the executive committee to account. The matter will now be discussed at a full council meeting later this month.