Pippbrook House, Opportunities for the Future
Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) has been working closely with Community group, Community Hub in Pippbrook (CHiP) on plans for Pippbrook House to become a Community Hub. CHiP's initial proposal has been shared with MVDC and it is considered sufficiently robust to pause work on the masterplan for the site whilst the business case is further developed.
Councillor Charles Yarwood, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Strategy and Assets, said: "Following the recent planned consultation on this site and consideration of subsequent feedback together with progress being made by CHiP, we are considering a new way forward.
For the first time, we have a potentially robust and sustainable community plan to consider. We are pausing our masterplan work to collaborate with CHiP further and support the development of their proposal.
"It has always been a desire for the building to remain in community use, but we were not able to identify a workable business case. CHiP are potentially able to access funding sources that are not available to local authorities, so we are hopeful that through their proposals, community use could be possible.
"We are open to receiving alternative community proposals and will also be considering if any funding from MVDC could be available related to annual costs we are currently incurring, other items identified in proposals or provision of additional parking to facilitate use of the site.
"We do have some support for a hotel on the site which we believe will positively impact on the eastern part of Dorking bringing tourism, jobs and supporting local businesses*. If the CHiP proposal (or other community proposals put forward) are not robust enough to come to fruition, then we are pragmatic enough to ensure that the draft Local Plan allows for review of the planning designation of the site.
"Pippbrook House is currently costing around £70,000 a year to maintain and requires investment of around £1.6 million to put the building into a satisfactory watertight state. We are now working closer than ever before with CHiP to find a long-term and sustainable plan for its future."
Sally Elias, on behalf of CHiP, said: "With our combination of proven entrepreneurialism and a love of our local landmark building, we're confident that through a Community Interest Company like CHIP, we are able to negotiate and secure the necessary funding to transform Pippbrook House into an asset to be used and owned by the people of Dorking and the wider Mole Valley.
"Our goal is to provide a genuinely accessible community hub for working, learning, therapy, arts and celebration. We have a clear vision and a business-model that will no doubt be made stronger and more compelling as we engage with the wider community and the officers and team at MVDC."
Pippbrook House is in a poor condition and is degrading. MVDC spends c£70k each year on basic maintenance including heating and security.
The building requires around £1.6m to be spent on it to put it into a satisfactory condition, and an estimated £4.7m for it to be put into business/community use.
In July 2014 Council considered a report about the site (Pippbrook House and the Pippbrook Offices) where it was agreed "That, in respect of Pippbrook House, the Executive be recommended to pursue Option 2c - MVDC should market Pippbrook House."
MVDC began marketing the site, with the caveat that it would be clear that no enabling development of the site would be allowed and that the release of land would only be considered if "it was required operationally to secure a new use for Pippbrook House".
Feedback from the subsequent marketing exercise carried out by commercial agents was that these terms made it impossible for any potential buyer to submit a bid for the building. The agents advised that the costs of the works required, together with the restrictive terms meant that there was no commercial viability for a proposal for the building.
Officers have had an ongoing dialogue with CHIP regarding Pippbrook House and CHIP were encouraged to develop proposals for the site.
In October 2017, Cabinet agreed that a Masterplan for the Pippbrook site and Reigate Road car park would be developed.
The purpose of this was to:
- Put Pippbrook House back into use
- Make a positive and lasting impact on the economic activity of the east end of Dorking town centre.
- Complement the existing uses of Dorking Halls, the Leisure Centre and the Council offices.
- Deliver jobs, encourage economic activity, create new homes and improve car parking.
Consultation was carried out on the Masterplan, with a report (now withdrawn from the agenda) due to Cabinet in November 2018.
*A hotel on the site would require a re-designation of planning policy implemented via the Local Plan. The Local Plan is due to be consulted on in the summer of 2019.