Soham Needs Hall In A Century Location

PUBLISHED: 13:36 27 May 2008 | UPDATED: 10:23 04 May 2010

The recent community facilities audit carried out by Soham Town Council concluded that Soham needs a large all purpose hall in a central location to fulfil the needs of the community. Whilst the debate over the future of the Church Hall site rages on, So

The recent community facilities audit carried out by Soham Town Council concluded that Soham needs a large all purpose hall in a central location to fulfil the needs of the community. Whilst the debate over the future of the Church Hall site rages on, Soham Town Forum has identified this as the only suitable location. So why then has Soham Town Council ring fenced £150,000 of community funds to go towards the building of a new scouting centre and not a community hall?

I don't think anyone would argue that the scout and guide huts, situated on the beautiful and historic open space of the Recreation Ground, are in an extremely poor state and barely fit for purpose, and that the scouts and guides deserve better facilities. But these buildings, erected as temporary accommodation for troops billeted at Soham during the war are actually owned by Soham Town Council, whom one might imagine is responsible for maintenance and modernisation? Instead, it is proposed that £150,000 of public money is to go towards part funding a new scouting centre, with car parking and a rifle range.

The public has not been told how big the proposed centre will be - it is two storeys high and will cover the footprint of both existing huts and more. There are proposals to chop down a 300-year old tree to facilitate this, and even more of the Recreation Ground will be taken up if the proposal to install a new car park is carried out. With an extension to the Pavilion tentatively proposed in a half-hearted attempt to fulfil the needs for a community hall, we could be looking at the development of the whole west end of the Recreation Ground - an open space which has been preserved in Soham since Roman Times.

It has been intimated that a public meeting was held concerning the proposed development but no one that I have spoken to knows anything about it. The scouts and guides do need new facilities, but this is not the answer. If they want a scouting centre, they must consider relocation. The Recreation Ground is owned by the town council who has agreed to let the scouts, said to be 220 individuals, have the land and Section 106 monies from the Lion Mills development to use for their own centre. This money has not been released yet and is unlikely to be released as Lion Mills development is not going to proceed any further at the present time.

People need to be aware that the proposal is for a 'scouting centre' as opposed to the replacement of existing huts and that the Recreation Ground is public land.

At the time of writing, the application has been rejected by East Cambridgeshire District Council, but we need to make sure that this is a permanent decision. Previously the Town Forum was unable to get a 'green' path installed for access to the scout and guide huts because the Recreation Ground was so protected.

I don't think anyone would object to the scouts building themselves a centre, it is the location that is inappropriate. The people I have spoken to are dead set against having a shooting range any where near a public open space and many are against teaching young people to shoot. It is obvious that this is just a gimmick to attract new recruits and we should ask whether the scouts have the appropriate expertise for this activity and whether the cost of building a centre as opposed to two new huts would be cost efficient in comparison to organised trips to a specialist centre.

This is a difficult subject to tackle, and the people involved in this application need to take a good look at their proposals and perhaps consider the implications of losing the Recreation Ground for future generations. It is not only extremely significant in terms of historic Soham, but it serves as a meeting place and focal point for the whole community.

DONNA MARTIN

Chairman

Soham Community History Museum

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