THE fate of an empty historic building in the middle of Abingdon will be decided by the end of the year.

Old Abbey House is an 18th century building which used to be the Citizens Advice Bureau until it was emptied in 2014.

Since then, the fate of the building has been in limbo, with its owner Vale of White Horse District Council discussing whether it should be sold off on several occasions.

Now, a decision on whether it will be sold to the highest bidder, or to a group of local residents for use by the community, is due in December.

As the council met last Wednesday (October 7), there was a barrage of public addresses from residents urging members to save the building for use as a community venue.

One speaker even said it had potential to be the equivalent of Abingdon’s ‘village hall’, with different societies and groups booking out rooms in the antique office building.

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Julie Kelly, who made the comparison, presented a petition to the council signed by more than 1,600 people calling on Old Abbey House to be saved for community ownership.

Andrew Coker, church warden for the parish of Abingdon, asked the council: “Why would you consider selling Old Abbey House when you have said on so many occasions it could play an important part in our community life?

“We desperately need a community facility. Old Abbey House could and should be that place.”

Mr Coker called on the council to follow the example of other towns across England, including King’s Lynn and Ludlow, which had given the community a say over historic buildings on their patches.

Hester Hands, of the Friends of Abingdon Civic Society, said the group wanted to submit a bid to take over the building and did not need financial support from Vale of White Horse council to do it.

But she said the civic society was ‘angry and confused’ that the council had not replied to its emails and letters to express an interest.

Ms Hands was also concerned about previous council reports which said the Vale was hoping to sell off the building quickly.

The council’s Lib Dem leader, Emily Smith, addressed the speakers’ worries about the future of Old Abbey House.

Ms Smith said it was ‘incredibly sad’ to see the building boarded up, and something needed to be done as the council was facing a mounting maintenance bill for it.

She added a report setting out the options for the building would be presented to the council’s cabinet, its most senior councillors, in December.

Before this, the council is due to send out letters to people and groups who have expressed an interest in taking over Old Abbey House – including community groups – asking them to put together a bid for how they want to use it, based on specific criteria laid out in the letter.

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Ms Smith said: “I completely agree about the importance of Old Abbey House.”

She added: “I cannot confirm today whether we will proceed with sale or not until cabinet have considered all the viable options for the building’s future and that they are fully understood.”

In August, the council announced it was ‘testing’ the property market for buyers for Old Abbey House, as well as discussing its future with the civic society.

A sale brochure by commercial property firm VSL is available online, but says details of a sale price are only given on application.

The building is not listed, and was originally built around 1780 by local businessman James Smallbone.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was home to Edwin Trendell, an ex-Mayor of the town, and afterwards owned by James Randall, Bishop of Reading.

In 1923, it was bought and used by Abingdon Borough Council and was home to Citizens Advice before being vacated in 2014.

In 2017 there were suggestions by the then-leader of Vale district council Matthew Barber that the building could either be renovated for use as council flats, or replaced with new council houses.

But these proposals were not taken ahead.