The Riverside Centre. Picture by Peter Boam.
A BREAKTHROUGH in the long-running row between the Isle of Wight Council and the Riverside Centre over its lease could finally be made next week.
The authority’s cabinet is being asked to approve proposals to scrap the current restrictive lease arrangements and develop a community asset transfer of the centre — based on a wider involvement of voluntary sector groups.
The move could lead to the centre becoming a one-stop shop for advice and support groups in addition to its existing community work.
It could also give the body that runs the Riverside Centre, greater freedom to generate vital income through sub-letting the premises and could also open the door to external funding unavailable to local authorities.
Fears for the future of the centre surfaced in October 2011 when County Hall threatened a near doubling of the rent and demanded outstanding rent and salary costs be repaid to the authority.
Mediation resulted in all the financial matters being resolved but did not address the lease dispute.
During the row, the council adopted a stricter booking criteria excluding use for all but those that support the disabled in an attempt to return the centre’s use to that stated in its lease.
Money-spinners such as weddings, discos, business meetings and conferences were among the casualties of the booking system, overseen by former council boss Steve Beynon.
He retired in April and Tory council leader, Cllr David Pugh, was ousted in the May election by Richard Priest, general manager of the Riverside Centre,
Cllr Priest now sits on the Independent-run cabinet but will not be permitted to vote on the item.
In a report to the committee, the council accepts restricting the centre’s ability to raise income is not sensible and proposes developing a community asset transfer based, possibility, on a long lease at a peppercorn rent.
If approved next Tuesday (10), cabinet members will receive a more detailed report in December.
The changes could pave the way for the centre being used by organisations including the Isle of Wight Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), Community Action Isle of Wight and Age UK (Isle of Wight).
Island CAB chief executive Lee Hodgson said it was in negotiations with the council.
"It would not just be for us, it would just be an advice service for the Isle of Wight — a central place for any Island resident to go for advice," he said.