A CHRISTCHURCH businessman is seeking legal advice over the council’s handling of the Druitt Hall saga.

Dr Alistair Somerville-Ford, head of the Institute of Commercial Management (ICM) in Ringwood, has offered to replace the Druitt Hall in Christchurch with a new community centre and museum.

He unveiled the plans at a public meeting in September, pledging to upgrade the existing building while land for a replacement hall was identified.

He also confirmed he would fund the building of a new hall, up to a maximum of £1.5million and transfer it to a local trust, relieving the council of any cost or expense in maintaining the new building.

But since then, following unsuccessful talks with council chiefs, including Chief Executive David McIntosh, who stated there was no need for a community hall in the town centre, Mr Ford is seeking legal advice on how to move forward.

Mr Ford said: “They basically said we cannot have it.

“This is despite them wanting to pull it down next year.

“The chief executive said he would consider it if we were prepared to submit a business plan and I said to him this is a road we have been down before and nothing has come of it.

“I have absolutely no doubt that if I were to produce such a document, no matter how convincing, it would be rejected.

“It is very difficult to understand when somebody is seeking to support the needs of the elderly within the community and is prepared to fund the whole operation, who would reject an offer like this?”

The Friends of Druitt Hall have been fighting to keep the dilapidated hall open despite the council voting unanimously to close it in March 2013.

Anne Mason, one of the Friends said: “I find it inexplicable for the council to summarily dismiss this extremely generous offer.

“Planning permission for the new hall was extended in 2011 for a further three years, at which time it was clear that the council wished to see this implemented.”

Key omission spotted

Part of the council’s Core Strategy supporting a new town centre community hall has been removed from the latest draft of the document.

Eagle-eyed supporters spotted the omission as the document goes out to consultation again.

The new statement says: “Community facilities will be safeguarded and support will be given to community groups and organisations to develop volunteering and to obtain premises from which to deliver services.”

David McIntosh, chief executive of the Christchurch and East Dorset Partnership, said: “We don’t believe there is a need for a community hall in Christchurch town centre.

“However, should any organisation or individual produce a robust business plan to provide such a facility, we will make the land available.”