MLCT History Timeline
Moulsham Lodge Community Centre was built and opened in 1972. Essex County Council (ECC) has always owned the freehold of the building and the land. Moulsham Lodge Community Association was granted a long lease of the 1.4 acre site at a nominal rent in 1972 by ECC - the original user clause being to use the premises 'for the purposes of a Community Association under Section 53 of the Education Act 1844.' There was also an original prohibition on the sale of intoxicating liquor.
The estimated construction cost of £20,750 was funded by a grant of £10,000 from the Department of Education and Science, with ECC (in addition to the land) contributing £2,781 by way of direct grant, Chelmsford BC contributing £2,500, with the remaining 25% made up from public contribution overseen by the Community Association.
Thus, ECC has always owned the land and building but the Community Association had a subsidiary leasehold interest to operate in the building. The records on Essex County Council files are limited between 1972 and 1993. It is clear however that the original lease was renewed and during the period the premises were extended to add a licensed bar and the actual use appears to have moved towards a licensed club rather than its original purpose (as presumably over the intervening years the Trustees changed).
Waltham Glen Community Association held the property under a long term lease that expired on the 25th December 1999. On expiry of the lease the tenant held over and Essex County Council served a Section 25 Notice terminating the existing tenancy and offering a new lease with effect from June 2001. Terms for a new lease were tentatively agreed but by August 2005 a new lease had still not been completed when the tenant abandoned the property.
In April 2006, the then Cabinet Member for Finance & Performance declared the property surplus to County Council requirements and in light of local support to retain the community centre determined that the property be offered to local community groups having first been offered to Chelmsford Borough Council for continued community use. In September 2006, Chelmsford Borough Council offered £250,000 for the property on behalf of the Royal British Legion but we were advised by our property Agents that this offer was not acceptable. The property was then offered to three local community groups. None of the offers were adjudged satisfactory.
In June 2007 Cabinet Member authority was granted to put the property on the open market and as a result of an extensive marketing campaign the County Council received 8 offers resulting in acceptance of a bid in the sum of £710,000. The sale subsequently fell through and the property was re-offered to the unsuccessful bidders. This exercise resulted in one bid for the property being received in the sum of £697,000, proposing to use the site for a medical facility to provide private elective surgery with no overnight stay (a Class 01 use). The bidder provided a written commitment to talk to potential community users about providing a community facility on site (a Class 02 use) but this would be at the community use provider's own cost. Due to deteriorating market conditions, the offer was subsequently reduced to £500,000 and due to CBC's interpretation of the existing use of the building having been primarily 02 (providing a community facility) resulted in their offer being made conditional on ECC securing consent for both 01 and 02 use.
At the planning Committee meeting of 11th November 2008, the Borough Council decided that the property should remain as a Community Hall (a class D2 use). Essex County Council then went through a period of review which subsequently led them to appeal against the planning decision.
On the 3rd January 2009, A Public meeting was called at the Catholic Church of the Holy Name in Lucas Avenue, a small hall was booked but this quickly became full and residents were queuing out of the door. The meeting had to be moved to the main church where the meeting was attended by over 300 people. From this meeting Moulsham Lodge Community Action Group was formed.
Between January & March 2009 the action group sent out a survey to ask residents what they wanted from a community centre. On the 18th March a Draft Business Plan containing the results of the community survey together with letters of interest from potential users and local community groups ie: Police, Schools and Churches was presented to Essex County Council at a meeting with Cllr. Peter Martin
On the 10th June 2009 – Essex County Council lodged an appeal against Chelmsford Borough Councils decision to refuse the planning application for a change of Use Class. Local residents had until the the 10th July 2009 to submit letters of support to the Independent Planning Inspectorate. On the 24 August 2009 the Planning Inspector conducted a site visit, following this the appeal was heard on the 9th September 2009 with a great result for the community, with the Independent Planning Inspector dismissing the appeal by ECC, he said of our business plan “The submissions include a draft business plan which has clearly involved a great deal of work and commitment by local individuals and organisations”
February 2010 – Yes! it really did take this long to arrange a follow up meeting with Essex County Council to explore a way forward. So from this point we had regular meetings with ECC.
On the 24th August 2010 At the AGM of the Moulsham Lodge Community Action Group the resolution to become the Moulsham Lodge Community Trust a Not For Profit company Limited by Guarantee was adopted and on 17th November 2010 we became an incorporated company no. 07442527. This put us on a professional footing and better able to deal with ECC and other organisations.
During the next year and a half we endeavoured to find the funding required to build a new community centre, with the estimate at the time of around £2 Million this was always going to be a major challenge. With time moving on and our window of opportunity getting smaller, we had to take a reality check and review the whole situation. In 2012 with things looking decidedly bleak and almost no progress being made, an opportunity popped up out of nowhere.
Essex Police had decided to sell off some of its property portfolio, Moulsham Lodge Police Station was one of those properties. With the police station centrally located on Moulsham Lodge it held the potential of being a hub that the community could use while other options could be considered.
Early on in 2012 after considering our options and realising that our master plan of regenerating the original site was never going to happen without a significant investment, we had to look at the alternatives. The police station gave us an alternative and quickly became the centre of our focus. With only an outline view of what we could do with the police station, in May 2012 we quickly submitted a proposal titled “Right To Buy Opportunity – Localism Act” to ECC. This proposed that we give up the right to the original site in return ECC would develop the land and grant MLCT the freehold of the police station.
Early on in 2012 after considering our options and realising that our master plan of regenerating the original site was never going to happen without a significant investment, we had to look at the alternatives. The police station gave us an alternative and quickly became the centre of our focus. With only an outline view of what we could do with the police station, in May 2012 we quickly submitted a proposal titled “Right To Buy Opportunity – Localism Act” to ECC. This proposed that we give up the right to the original site in return ECC would develop the land which would generate enough revenue to facilitate for ECC to grant MLCT the freehold of the police station. ECC considered the proposal and agreed that it was a workable option.
Following this MLCT entered into yet more negotiations and discussions with ECC. There was one significant change to the proposal that ECC wanted to change, granting freehold ownership to MLCT. ECCs revised condition was that they would propose that they buy it from Essex Police and lease it to MLCT, it would be a long lease (typically 125 years) for a “peppercorn” rent of £1. Our main consideration for ownership was based on the communities initial contribution for building the original centre in 1972, effectively we wanted that investment to be realised in the community ownership of the police station. However on consideration we decided that for the short term this would be the best option as it would give us time to become established without the responsibilities of being an owner. If it all failed we could just walk away!
During the next two years there were many discussions between MLCT, ECC & Essex Police, it was complicated and legal experts had to be employed to untangle the issues that had been hidden (not intentionally) or forgotten about until now. With all of these issues eventually becoming untangled we moved towards agreeing a temporary lease.
This brings us to 2014, A lease between ECC and MLCT was drafted and with the help of Prettys Solicitors, who gave their time free to MLCT, we moved forward to a position were happy to sign up to.
On the 22nd August 2014 the lease was finally completed and in the next couple of weeks we will get the keys. However before we get carried away, ECC will have to make sure all is in order with the building, this may mean some remedial work may have to be done to prepare for our occupation. We will then be asking for help to "decorate" and bring it up to a standard that the community can start using it as a hub.
What happens now will be up to the community!