Regular readers will know that The Riverporter has been featuring the Octagon in its ‘REASONS TO BE SHUT’ series of cartoons. Residents concern about why this significant building is not being used other than to store bins, prompted the editor to raise the issue with readers in this light-hearted way. What The Riverporter has discovered is that plans, submitted to HDC over a year ago to use the Octagon as an auction room as part of a scheme to create one of the largest antiques centres in the area, have been rebuffed, despite their obvious benefit to the town.
The recent history of the Octagon illustrates a comment made recently that our District Councillors are ‘Not doing their best for the town’ may be true.
Built in the 1940s the Octagon was the auction ring for the famous Cattle Market until 1970. Since then it has been used as a store by the owners HDC, but in 2014 they deemed it ‘Surplus to requirements’ and HDC’s then leader, Jason Ablewhite, offered the freehold to the Town Council for it to be used as the Town’s maintenance depot. Having just decided on a new depot off Hill Rise the Town Council turned the offer down.
Available for rent?
The building was then put up for rent and some businesses showed interest, including Toms Cakes and Carl Boreman who wanted to knock it down and run a club/bar. Residents were concerned and decided to form a group to Save the Octagon (STO). After a while, commercial interest declined, largely because of HDC’s lethargy in dealing with the matter and STO, which had raised £50,000 in grants and sponsorship became the only interested party.
Following praise from HDC officers for STOs proposals to run the Octagon as a daily ‘farmers style’ market with tourist information and events and community use, on 6 July 2015 Cllr Ablewhite proposed HDC repair the outside of the building if STO could do the inside work. STO confirmed that this was possible as long as a lease was granted within 12 months, a condition required for the £35k Grantscape funds.
Nothing more was forthcoming until September 2015 when Cllr Ablewhite informed STO that HDC were no longer pursuing any commercial activity for the building and that STO should change its name as ‘it is not relevant now that it (the building) is protected’.
Following a request for clarification of the lease process from STO, Cllr. Ablewhite replied ‘There is no need to ask this extremely long plethora of questions … We will be in touch in due course’ and the following month he said ‘Please get the message, We will get back to you in due course’.
So who saved the Octagon?
In March 2016 posters appeared stating that Clirs Davis and Dickinson had ‘Saved The Octagon’ and were looking ‘to find a sustainable outcome that isn’t going to cost the taxpayers of St lves hundreds of thousand of pounds’.
With the grant deadline fast approaching, STO made one more attempt to get a lease and approached HDCs new leader. At first HDCs Corporate Director, Nigel McCurdy, seemed keen to arrange one in time but after returning from his holiday this was later rescinded and STO were told that HDC thought their plans, once considered very good, were now not good enough.
So STO’s grants were returned and the group disbanded while HDC spent £50,000 of taxpayers money on repairing the outside of the building.
A year later in July 2017, Hyperion put forward plans to use the Octagon for auctions and develop their existing site next door into one of the areas largest antiques centres. HDCs response this time came from Cllr Angela Dickinson who was less than encouraging. She wrote ‘After serious consideration it was felt that your proposal did not meet the criteria HDC is looking for.’