A LOCAL councilor has described plans to turn Penistone Town Hall into a community space as the ‘slowest-moving project in the universe’ after plans were finally approved earlier this month.
An application had been made to Barnsley Council’s planning department to create a cinema, bar, cafe and kitchen, as well as community spaces at Penistone Town Hall on Shrewsbury Road.
It is hoped the works will ‘help Penistone become the vibrant market town it should be’.
The application by the council’s Economic Regeneration Department proposes a new accessible entrance and internal changes to the historic building, which opened in 1914 and is in a conservation area.
Used as an army recruiting center in WW1, for balls and fundraisers in WW2, then of limited use as it is deemed “of local interest” but not listed.
Now that plans have been approved, it is hoped the chamber will become a ‘multi-functional’ area, while there will also be dedicated exhibition space, with internal lifts providing better access.
Councilor Hannah Kitching, who represents Penistone West and is the leader of Barnsley’s Liberal Democrats, said funding was in place even before she was elected.
“It’s just the slowest project in the universe,” she told the Chronicle.
“It’s an underutilized building that does nothing for the community.
“The renovation is part of larger plans – but they just didn’t happen fast enough.
“We just have to wait and see it happen.”
Councilor Kitching added that there have been instances in the past of Barnsley Council rushing plans – but she feels there was no urgency with this request.
“What is irritating is that there have been a few instances where the council has rushed things,” she added.
“Why is it taking so long?
“Where is the emergency?
“It’s fine to talk but people weren’t included in the plans.
“They need to see tangible benefits.”
A planning statement says the building has been plagued by threats of closure throughout its use – with the main goal being to make the space a community hub for residents to use.
“As an asset of considerable community interest, the underutilization of the building was raised during our initial consultation regarding major towns and a desire was raised to see the building used as a flexible and functional,” the statement added.
“However, the building would not be a feasible asset as there are currently a number of issues with the condition of the building and accessibility issues, the purpose of this project is to undertake the necessary repairs and alter the building to create a flexible usable community space.
“Penistone Paramount is attached to the town hall building and is successfully leased by the town council which covers all repairs and maintenance to the building.
‘It is proposed that when the work is completed, the building will be transferred or leased to the council, removing all future cost liabilities from Barnsley council.
“It is anticipated that in addition to additional Paramount performances, a variety of cultural events and exhibitions will be hosted from the building.”
This scheme is seen as Penistone’s lead project in the next phase of Barnsley’s Principal Towns scheme.