St Helens Council is “committed” to bringing the Gamble Building back into public use and has no plans to sell it off, a senior councillor has said.
On Wednesday, the council’s cabinet endorsed a phased approach to restoring the Gamble and Earlestown Town Hall, starting with a detailed community consultation.
Labour’s Martin Bond, cabinet member for finance, said both buildings were “emblematic” of the borough’s shared heritage.
Coun Bond also moved to address rumours that the council were looking to sell-off the Gamble, which was gifted to the council by David Gamble in 1896 as a Library and Technical School for the education of the borough.
Coun Bond said: “I really do welcome the commitment that’s in this report and also to talk to residents about what they want as well.
“It can’t and will not just be the council saying to them, we are putting the library back in there and that’s that. People will be engaged in what happens.
“And to show that it’s not being sold. The Gamble isn’t being sold off to be a hotel. It’s not being knocked down.
“We are committed to these buildings in Earlestown and in the town centre.”
Central Library, based in the Gamble, has been closed since March 2017 following a ceiling collapse, although the upper floors of the building have remained in use by council staff.
Earlestown Town Hall has been closed since 2008, shortly before it became a Grade II listed building.
Coun Bond said the new approach will provide “focus” but warned the cost of bringing the iconic buildings back into public use will be “significant”.
He also said the council need to be “realistic” about the age and condition of the buildings and what it can actually do with them.
Coun Bond said: “There is no doubt that the cost of restoring and providing new life to these buildings will be significant and we have to explore all funding opportunities that may be available.
“But we do want residents and communities to have their say to look at how we might work in partnership with them to offer new and exciting social and cultural activities within the fabulous buildings we have that are steeped in history.”
Newton councillor Jeanie Bell said residents have expressed “frustration” at the length of time it has taken to move forward with the restoration of Earlestown Town Hall.
Coun Bell, cabinet member for community safety, praised the commitment in the report to the usage of the buildings as well as their restoration, adding that the long-term sustainability of them remaining open could be “jeopardised” if there is no strategy for their use.
Welcoming the new approach, council leader David Baines said: “Both these buildings belong to the people of St Helens and Newton-le-Willows and Ealestown.
“So, we’ve got a duty of representatives of those people in our communities to restore these buildings and look after them and to make sure they stay in public use.”
Coun Baines said there are two key dates coming up that should “spur” the council on with the restoration of the Gamble and Earlestown Town Hall.
These are the 125th anniversary of the Gamble being constructed in 2021 and the 130th anniversary of the beginning of construction of Earlestown Town Hall in 2022.
Coun Baines said: “We have two significant dates there on the horizon, a couple of years away. This couldn’t be more timely.
“Let’s restore the buildings, let’s bring them back into public use.
“This is step one of the restoration process and hopefully it’s going to be an exciting process and in a few years we’re going to look back with pride on what we’ve done.”
Cabinet noted the report and approved the use of £250,000 from its capital receipts, which will allow for the design, enabling and commissioning works, plus the community consultation exercise.
More detailed costs will be presented in future reports once the detailed work to develop each scheme has been undertaken.