Ambitious vision for Narberth

Friday 6th May 2016 7:45 am
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Ben Morris at Narberth old school. ()

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An ambitious vision for the centre of Narberth, with a Sydney Opera House style building for community use, has been proposed by a retired business consultant.

It’s the brainchild of 72-year-old Ben Morris, of Stepaside, who says: “I would like to promote the idea of the community taking over the old school and making a real wow statement.”

“It could provide a high quality focus for the town to generate economic activity, jobs and small business,” continued Mr. Morris, who has previously been involved with the Queen’s Hall committee and served as a Span Arts trustee.

His reasons are that ‘the present developers are apparently losing interest and supermarkets are not developing any more.”

“It would be boring to house medical facilities, social services offices, and other office facilities - there is plenty of room for these along Redstone Road,” said Mr. Morris, who as a business consultant has been involved in the setting up of a number of community projects and co-operative groups and is a specialist in the creative and community sector.

“The town doesn’t need more shops for rent,” he opined in an email to the town council this week.

“I would build a striking building design like Sydney Opera House with a grass roof, zero per cent carbon footprint, a 500-seat auditorium for performance and dancing facing an atrium that looks out over the moor, shared spaces for the Scouts and Cadets, spaces for shops/workshop spaces focused on the creative industry - art, computer, craft, design, etc, space for Span Arts office, a well-designed, double-storey car park over the playground area with one level that can be utilised for the food festival, plant sale, children’s festival, carnival, etc. Combined with tidying up the tacky buildings in the middle of the car park, an art gallery for the local creative community, meeting rooms, catering facilities leading to a platform overlooking the moor, cleanable, modern, toilet facilities.”

Mr. Morris suggests the funding could be sourced from a wide range of community grants and by selling the Queens Hall, Span Arts building and toilets for development (hopefully affordable housing included).”

Mr. Morris has been floating the idea of a really high profile community facility since the school was put up for sale by Pembrokeshire County Council.

He adds: “In the present economic climate in retailing, there is little chance of the developers opening a supermarket on the site - a proposal that anyway was not met with much enthusiasm by Narberth people. The school is an increasing eyesore in the centre of town.”

So far, support for the idea in principle has come from Span Arts, local business people and Narberth residents.

After hearing Mr. Morris’s proposals, town councillors agreed to write to him thanking him for his ideas, with Clr. David Norcross adding: “I have had long and complicated discussions with the Charity Commission with regard to the Queens Hall Trust gaining Ltd. status and the main problem was the original charter that set up the hall in the late 1940s - early ’50s. There is a unmoveable clause stating that the land on which the hall is built has been given to the community. As such, whilst we can ‘sell’ the fabric of the building, the land on which it is built must remain the property of the community and always used for the community’s benefit (education, entertainment, social support).”

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