It's up for sale, but why wasn't East House saved for the people of Hadleigh?

28th January 2008

There is a story here. There may be blame to be levelled. But the tale is surprisingly simple and the myths interestingly unfounded.

Records at Babergh show that East House and the Meadows were bought by the former Hadleigh Urban Council from the Styles family in 1960 for about £15,500. It was a straightforward sale with nothing to specify the building should be used for the benefit of Hadleigh people or anyone else. (Which dispels the first myth.)

When local government was reorganised in 1974, council-held assets had to be reallocated to the new bodies. To begin with the new councils agreed that the town council should take on ownership of East House. It was a town asset and would stay in the hands of the town's administrators. However, when, under the rules of reorganisation, the district auditor investigated the division of assets it was discovered that because East House had been bought by the former urban council under Housing Act powers it would therefore have to be allocated to the new district council (Babergh) which was responsible for housing. It was thus transferred to ownership of Babergh.

Only a short time late, in 1975, Babergh offered to sell East House (though not the meadows) to Hadleigh Town Council. They could do this by transferring the asset from the housing fund to the general rate fund. But whatever fund it was in, Babergh was legally required to sell any asset at market value, to get the best possible price. Hadleigh Town Council unanimously decided not to buy the property. They looked into taking out a loan for the purchase and it would have cost £3,000 to £4,000 a year for a 30-year mortgage, according to records at Babergh. The town council was already financing loans relating to Hadleigh Guildhall and was therefore unable to take on another financial commitment of that size.
East House and the meadows originally included the area on which St Mary's school now stands. The school site was parcelled off and sold to the county council. When East House was offered to Hadleigh Town Council it was just East House and the garden, not the meadows.

Now, some 30 years later, Babergh is selling the asset. It had been leased to Suffolk County Council who recently discovered that it was the second least efficient property on its books, says a Babergh representative. Not surprising then that Suffolk didn't renew its lease.

And Hadleigh loses out. You could say it's a victim of representative democracy; Hadleigh councillors together would not have wielded a majority vote and if East House was saved then no doubt assets elsewhere would have been under increased threat.

So, who's to blame? Well, you might criticise Hadleigh Town Council for not buying it back in 1975 and securing it for the people of Hadleigh. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but what town council could have taken on such a financial commitment?
Better perhaps to blame the law. Effectively the town was being asked to buy East House twice; it was bought by the former urban council for use by Hadleigh community and then, because of reorganisation, the town was being asked to buy it again. The law, in this case, was an ass and took no heed of local needs, though the property did continue to serve Hadleigh for the next 30 years.

Or maybe, just maybe, we should blame Babergh for turning a deaf ear to public outcry. It would be honourable now to sell East House to the town council. Judging from the building schemes already on agent's selling details, the area around East House is valuable building land, especially when you add the old putting greeen to the site. So, Babergh, why not sell the land for building and allow the town to buy back East House? Or just don't sell East House but make your money - or rather our money as local taxpayers - by building on its garden and the putting green.

Originally the argument was that the money was needed from the sale of East House to refurbish or rebuild Hadleigh swimming pool, which is no longer on the agenda.
So, perhaps the biggest myth of all is that Babergh has to sell East House at all.

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