KNUTSFORD Town Council has said it wants the Sessions House to be used by the community if the sale goes ahead.
The subject of the court house on Toft Road was high on the agenda at Knutsford Town Council’s meeting on Monday night.
A number of matters were discussed, including whether or not the council objected to the Crown Court closure, and also the possibility of the town council taking an active lead role in seeking to preserve the Sessions House building in public ownership with community use for Knutsfordians.
On the subject of the council’s stance on the proposed closure of the court, a proposal was agreed that the council would raise no objection to the permanent closure but request that the estates department enter into discussion with residents about future use.
Discussion then turned to the public ownership matter, motioned by Clrs Peter Coan, Yvonne Bancroft and Julian Goodrich.
“The idea of looking at public ownership is to see if the council can do something special for the people of Knutsford,” said Clr Goodrich.
“We are looking to gather ideas together from the community.”
Clr Goodrich listed some suggested uses of the Grade II* listed building if public ownership were to be achieved, including a museum, community space, and little theatre.
Although many members agreed with the public access and community use element of the proposal, some raised concerns about the public ownership aspect, in particular the costs it would incur to the taxpayer.
Clr Stewart Gardiner said: “We are the owner of a listed building (Gaskell Tower) – we know how much that costs and it’s miniscule in size relative to the court building.”
Clr Gardiner added that the possibility of the Sessions House becoming a new medical centre has been discussed by the council’s health and social care working group, Cheshire East officers and officers from the health authority.
This would involve partial demolition of the building – the Victorian part – and the erection of a modern structure.
“Their biggest concern is the cost of maintenance to the public purse,” added Clr Gardiner. “Old buildings are very nice but they are very expensive.”
Clr Gardiner said he thinks there is a future for the building, but in private ownership with a provision for public use. He said he could see it being home to a high-quality HQ of a major company, as it has ideal airport, motorway and rail links.
Clr Gary Lasham concurred: “The best chance for us to keep the historic values of the site is a private development that allows some sort of access to the public.”
The motion was modified whereby the town council take an active role in seeking to preserve an element of public access to the Sessions House in any future redevelopment and to incorporate, where possible, community use to the benefit of Knutsford residents.
The proposal was passed with a unanimous vote.