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Pembroke Dock: Town Council in rent payment controversy

paterPEMBROKE DOCK TOWN COUNCIL is in a dispute with the Pater Hall Trust over its rent payments.

The Town Council has a 25-year lease with the Pater Hall Trust for use of the Pater Hall and other facilities.

However, the Council have been relocated to the Bridge Innovation Centre on a temporary basis and say they will relocate back to the Pater Hall once the ground floor offices are up to a standard which will allow for normal working regulations.

Cllr Phil Gwyther submitted a notice of motion which called for the Council not to break its lease with the Trust by entering into negotiations over a new lease when the new offices are completed.

At the November meeting of the Council, Cllr Gwyther revealed that he had been in contact with the Town Council’s solicitor who had said that it would be a breach of contract if the council stopped paying the rent.

There were also doubts as to whether or not the lease had been signed but again the solicitor said that because the agreement had been in place 10 years the lease was legal regardless of it being signed or not.

At Thursday’s (Jan 14) meeting of the Town Council, Cllr Gwyther’s notice of motion was discussed at length but no agreement was reached and the motion was deferred until the next meeting.

Cllr Gwyther, who is also a member of the Pater Hall Trust, said: “We must not be the legal equivalent of squatters and the council must be legal and proper. If we do maintain the rent the current lease we’ve got is still valid.

“I do feel that the trustees have been put in a very difficult situation and it is very awkward for us.

“As trustees we have to do our duty to the trust and ensure that it is financially viable.

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“I know some councillors are keen to stop paying the rent but we haven’t voted as a body to do that. There will need to be a written agreement between the council and trust about the rent because the rental figure was never mentioned in these documents and we have been paying the rent based on a council decision made in 2005.

“When the Trust was set up the Council gave a written guarantee to the charity commissioners that the rental payment was the part that the council would give the trust in order for it to be financially viable.

“I don’t feel we should be breaking our promise with the charity that we made in writing. We should hope that the Trust will keep going.”

Cllr Sue Perkins said: “I am quite concerned that the five trustees have already taken a vote on this and made their decisions because the decisions of what we do should be done in this council and its very obvious that five trustees have already voted on the notice of motion. They should have taken their views to the council first.

“I haven’t seen any legal advice to say that we can’t withdraw funding. If it’s there I am more than happy to see it and then I will make a decision.”

Councillor Tony Wilcox said: “We are here now because the Trust has neglected the Town Council offices when they knew full well that they weren’t occupied.

“The rooms upstairs are unfit for purpose and that’s why we moved out.”

Cllr Gwyther then read part of a letter to the Charities’ commission from the Council in June 2005 but members were unhappy that a copy had not been circulated to them.

Cllr Perkins added that there was ‘no way’ she would vote on the notice of motion and asked for it to be held in abeyance.

Cllr Andrew McNaughton suggested that the council should pay the rent for the coming month before discussing the matter again.

Cllr Gwyther said his notice of motion was about principles and not about the money but that was challenged by Cllr Perkins who said that the Trust relied on the Town Council.

It was also revealed that the council paid £1820 for the office and a further £1560 for the chamber which they had not been using.

The Town Council had agreed to pay £7000 in rent for the first three years but that was not reviewed.

After a lengthy debate it was agreed that the matter would be deferred until the next meeting of the council.