3rd Dec, 2016

#SaveThePriory: Fears grow that centre may never re-open

Les Reid 19th May, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

COVENTRY council is facing calls to re-start the bidding process for people to step in to run the 1,000-year-old Lady Godiva-founded first city Cathedral and Priory – for longer than three years.

As we reported last week, organisations seeking to take over the ‘internationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre axed by the council in February are being invited to bid to run it for THREE YEARS only on a three-year lease, raising further alarm that it may never re-open.

Application forms and bidding documents were placed on Coventry City Council’s website last week, and bidders have until the end of the month to respond.

But last week we reported concerns – including from potential bidders – that a three-year term could prevent people putting together a sustainable business plan and would not be long enough to attract grants.

We reported the council’s response last week which stated: “The council has invited expressions of interest on a proposed three-year lease term but is open to considering a proposition from organisations or community groups interested in taking on the operational management of the PVC for a longer term.

“The panel will consider a request to negotiate a longer lease term where a supporting, sustainable business case shows the need for this.”

As we reported, the application documents fail to state this.

This week, we asked the council whether it would re-open the process so bidders could be properly informed they could make a pitch for a longer business plan.

A council statement in response this week states: “The current Expression of Interest process for the Priory Visitor Centre and Undercroft is for a three-year lease.

“The Council stated that it would be open to considering a proposition from organisations or community groups interested in taking on the operational management of the PVC for a longer term, but such a request would need to be considered outside of the provisions of the current Expression Of Interest process.

“To date no clarifications from potential bidders have come forward to the Council in relation to the negotiation of the length of lease.”

Roger Bailey, a blue badge Coventry tour guide and opposition councillor, said in response to the latest council statement that the local authority appeared to again be changing its position under challenge.

He added: “To be fair to everyone, including those who might be turned away by a three-year bidding process, I think they should re-start it.

“It should offer a five-year term, and make clear there is an option for bidders to state why they would want to run the Priory Visitor Centre for longer.

“It should also state that the five-year term would be reviewed after three years, with an opt-out clause.”

The Coventry Observer’s #SaveThePriory campaign has called on the council to ensure the ‘city’s birthplace’ venue is re-opened urgently, with community group takeovers only being one potential solution.

Our campaign call has been echoed by prominent figures including the Bishop of Coventry the reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth; TV Time Team presenter and ‘Blackadder’ actor Sir Tony Robinson; eminent medieval historian Dr Jonathan Foyle; and Coventry South Labour MP Jim Cunningham.

The council’s budget last year enforced the centre’s closure – implemented in February this year – to save the council £100,000 annually – less than half the remuneration of the council’s chief executive.

Coventry businesswoman Carole Donnelly is among potentially interested parties. The Chapelfields ‘social entrepreneur’ told us last month she would seek to acquire a ‘community asset transfer’ before potentially bidding for Lottery or heritage funding to help re-open the venue as a non-profit multi-purpose social enterprise, staffed by community volunteers.

Other community organisations – from a cafe company to local creative and artistic organisations – could potentially get involved, she had told us.

The Bishop of Coventry described the remains and artefacts housed at the Priory Visitor Centre in Priory Place, city centre, as “one of our city’s great treasures”.

Treasures include a glorious Chapter House wall painting, carved sandstone gargoyles, medieval glass and 14th century tile floors.