Legal battle over Grasmere meeting place

A fight to save a community meeting place in Diss is set to go to the county court in the New Year after its tenants launched a legal bid to renew its lease.

A fight to save a community meeting place in Diss is set to go to the county court in the New Year after its tenants launched a legal bid to renew its lease.

The South Norfolk Conservative Association was granted planning permission in the summer to demolish its headquarters for a mereside flats development.

But the social club tenants of Grasmere, whose 20-year lease expires today, have instructed solicitors to submit an application to seek a stay of execution and new tenancy through the county court.

Officials from the Grasmere Club, who strongly opposed the demolition of the 1960s building for 14 flats, said they do not believe the local Conservative association is committed to the development, which would also result in South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon needing new offices.

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But the association said that work on the site in Denmark Street, Diss, could start after the general election and had already begun looking at alternative venues for its new headquarters in the district.

More than 1,200 people signed a petition earlier this year against the loss of the Grasmere building, which is home to a number of community groups and ex-servicemen's clubs. The Diss and District branch of the Royal Air Forces Association has already found new premises at the football club, but the Royal British Legion branch remains at Grasmere.

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John Davis, chairman of the Grasmere Club, said the South Norfolk Conservative Association refused to listen to its bid for a new tenancy agreement and the local party had a 'moral obligation' to retain the venue for community use.

'Sir John and Lady Mann gave the building for the benefit of the ex-servicemen's clubs, Conservative Association, and social club. Unfortunately the freehold was placed into the hands of the Conservative Association and they think they can do what they want with it and maximise the returns from it.'

'Under the landlord and tenant act they can refuse to renew our lease if they are going to redevelop the site, but we do not believe they are. We suspect their intention is to sell it to a developer,' he said.

Christopher Kemp, deputy chairman of the South Norfolk Conservative Association, said the political group was still negotiating developer contributions with South Norfolk Council and he 'could not see the point' of the Grasmere Club taking the matter to the county court.

'We have a fixed and firm intention to proceed with the demolition and redevelopment of Grasmere. If we have to prove that to the court then so be it.'

'We will be hoping to get something moving in the summer or autumn and we do not have to move before the general election. We want to move into new premises before we get busy with the district council elections in 2011. The long-term possibility is that a number of associations come together to pool resources,' he said.

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