“The new cultural centre will contain about 750 seats, bar, restaurant, conference room and exhibition area. This size is deemed ideal for the majority of events whereas the Pavilion was too large. It will also comply with the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act whereas the Pavilion did not.”
Fine words indeed. You may think I said them. I didn’t. They come from the Conservative Party In Touch newsletter from around 2002. Cllr Andrew Williams who was Leader of the Council is quoted in the leaflet saying “Conservatives promised to build a new Cultural Centre and we are pleased to announce the development will commence towards the end of 2004 to be opened in 2005, it will be an excellent asset for the residents of Dacorum”.
Fast forward a decade and the same Cllr Williams, who is still Leader of the Council, has just announced planning permission to build plush new offices for council departments on the very spot where the Pavilion used to stand.
Who voted for that? Certainly not the 1,000 plus signatures that have been collected by the people behind the Hemel Hempstead Hub calling for a replacement venue instead of a multiplex on Market Sq.
Last week I launched an architect’s competition to find an alternative arts venue. The brief is clear that we don’t yet have funding but the competition will be conducted under Royal Institute of British Architects guidelines and the best ideas will be short listed and put to the public vote - unlike the Public Sector Quarter.
Councillor Williams responded in the Gazette by complaining about how much the old Pavilion cost. But that’s the reason why the original was bulldozed in the first place – so that we could build the smart new sustainable venue he promised in his leaflet. He broke that promise and now we are pumping millions into a new civic centre which will do nothing to encourage families to come into the town at the weekends or evenings.
To make matters worse the Council have also announced they are considering plans for more shops and restaurants next to Jarman’s Park in direct competition to the Town Centre which will simply wither and die.
As a candidate in the general election the Pavilion comes up on the doorstep time and again. It’s more than just a building. It’s emblematic of the town’s heart and the choice we need to make about the kind of place we want to be. I think it is the job of our MP to take a stand on issues like this and show leadership where local feelings obviously run high. Mr Penning has been conspicuous by his silence.
I realise that creating a commercially sustainable venue will be a hard road. But I dare to dream and if I can turn the Pavilion into an issue at this coming election, then we will have taken the first step. I want to see the issue debated, not just at hustings meetings, but over the breakfast table and in the workplace so that all the candidates will have to say one way or another whether they too can dream.