No further action after community centre sold for less than market value

NO FURTHER action will be taken over the controversial sale of a community centre which a councillor said was let go on the cheap.

Mexborough Community Partnership folded in 2020, having struck a deal to sell its Mexborough Resource Centre base two years earlier.

The buyer was Pete Newman, the owner of nearby Mexborough Business Centre, who paid part of the agreed price upfront and arranged to settle the balance by instalments.

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Mexborough First councillor Sean Gibbons was critical of the deal at the time, saying the building had been severely undervalued and criticising MCP for not investing proceeds from the piecemeal sale into the community.

Financial documents from 2017 had set the partnership’s assets at £900,000, but paperwork relating to the sale of the resource centre put the sale price at £120,000.

The Coalfields Regeneration Trust - which had given MCP a £300,000 grant in 2006 - instructed a financial expert to investigate.

CRT chief executive Gary Ellis said at the time that it was “disappointing that the building has been sold for less than market value and without consultation, particularly as the funds we have allocated have ensured the facility continues to deliver services that meet with the complex needs of local residents”.

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The liquidator’s third annual report has now been published - and concludes that “no further action” is necessary against the former directors of the MCP.

Liquidator Edward Wetton writes: “As advised in my previous report, it would appear that the grant funding terms and conditions have been breached and the Coal (sic) Regeneration Trust were not informed as regards the sale by the company.

“However, following a very considered review, no further action is to be taken.

“This matter is now concluded.”

The report also revealed that Mr Newman offered last September to buy the resource centre outright - an offer which was accepted.

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At the time of the liquidator’s report, just under £90,000 was owed.

Mr Newman confirmed this week that a deal had been struck, saying: “This was an agreement agreed with the liquidators to pay the outstanding balance in full including interest and an agreed overpayment fee to cover any uplift and charges that may have accrued.

“It was agreed this deal overall represents good value and would benefit all concerned rather than being paid over the remaining mortgage term of seven years.”

While Mr Newman would not reveal the amount paid, he added: “I can confirm it was more than we owed over the remaining term and was paid on the August 1.”

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It is thought that once the liquidator’s fees are settled, a fraction of the centre’s estimated worth will remain with CRT - but it is unclear how this will be spent.

Cllr Gibbons said preliminary discussions had been held about forming a panel to dispense the sale proceeds as community grants but these had stalled.

When questioned over the use of the resource centre last year, the management of Mexborough Business Centre insisted it was well-used.

But there have been no posts on the resource centre Facebook page or reference to the resource centre on the business centre’s own page since last year.

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Part of MRC has been used as the Raven Gallery but the gallery’s Facebook page announced this week that it was “closing down” tomorrow and this year’s Mexborough Open Art Exhibition will take place at the market hall.

Cllr Gibbons, a former vice-chairman and director of MCP, said he was “hugely disappointed” by how the situation had turned out.

“This should never have happened,” he said.

“The directors could have reached out to businesses and the community for help to try and keep going.

“Instead, they’ve opted to sell off the town’s most precious community asset for a fraction of its worth to a private business.

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“Those individuals should hang their heads in shame and should not be a director of any company, charitable or profit-making, in future.”

Cllr Gibbons said the Mexborough Community Hub had emerged as “the new resource centre” but he remained frustrated that the former MCP base was no longer in public hands “for the interests of the town”.

A CRT spokesperson said: “We’re aware the liquidator’s report has been filed and have no further comment.”