Why I’m less than starry eyed

Two weeks ago your headline story was the Council plans to link the Pump Room to a “Culture Quarter” in Spencer Yard and some of my views were quoted. Last week I attended the WDC executive to hear discussion of these proposals.

It was a strange event: a roomful of mature councillors outbidding each other in their expressions of excitement at the prospect. At one point Councillor Hammon remarked rather sniffily on the chairman of Leamington Society’s failure to be excited - why was he so gloomy? Perhaps I should be glad of the mention and certainly take no offence; but I will explain why I am less starry eyed than Cllr Hammon and his colleagues.

Leamington has a legacy of interesting listed buildings, many of them owned by the District, which struggles to use them economically. The Leamington library functions well, in the Pump Rooms, so why move it out only to create another large empty space looking for a use? Cllr Boad made the same point to the executive.

To wish for a “Cultural Quarter” that magically touches an assortment of buildings with gold dust is not to ensure a happy ending, as previous attempts have shown. Central and local government is always on the lookout to lever in commercial money, hoping it will do the heavy lifting in hard times, but it often ends in tears.

Three years ago Kudos took over the Pump Room contract and boasted “Kudos cafes wins £12 million deal in Leamington Spa” (The Caterer, January 24 2012). I do not know what they promised the council, but doubt WDC has derived any significant share of profit. (The accounts are of course confidential, possibly embarrassing). Their catering has won no plaudits.

Meantime Leamington Music, one of the town’s brightest cultural assets, has met with hassle when using the Pump Rooms which are dark and empty most evenings.

Richard Ashworth, Chairman, Leamington Society