A COMMUNITY centre fears it could miss out on £35,000 after Salisbury District Council whisked the money away just hours after telling them they had secured the grant.

St Michael's community centre at Bemerton Heath applied for the funding to improve disabled access, heating and insulation.

They submitted a bid before the deadline and were told by the council last Monday that, as the only applicants, they had been successful and could start work straight away.

The delighted management committee immediately called contractors and arranged for the improvements to begin. However, they were stunned when the council told them just hours later that there had been an objection and they had reopened the bidding process for another six months to give other groups time to apply for the money.

"I was astounded," said the Reverend Simon Woodley, chairman of the centre's management committee.

"We followed all the correct procedures and met the deadline and were the only group to do so. So to be told that we had the money and then to have it taken away in the same afternoon is very upsetting."

The community centre is used by more than 500 people a week for a range of activities including exercise classes, flower arranging, judo and drama.

It is the headquarters of Salisbury-based charity the Trussell Trust and is also home to a parent and toddler group and a pensioners' club.

"We were going to spend the money on making the building more accessible, warmer, more efficient and cheaper to run, which would have benefited everyone who uses it," said Mr Woodley.

"We have had contractors turning up here ready to start work and we've had to turn them away because we don't know if we've got the money to pay them. It seems to me the council has got in a complete muddle."

The money was given to community projects in Bemerton Heath by property builder Taylor Woodrow five years ago, following the development at the former Express Dairies site in Festival Avenue, under a legal arrangement known as a Section 106 agreement. It was meant to be awarded by June 18 or it would go back to the developer, but the council has asked for an extension.

Other bids for the funding can now be submitted - including one from the Neighbourhood Centre, which wants to develop a community facility at the former NCH children's centre in Pinewood Way.

It plans to open an after school club and lunch club, as well as providing a venue for the toy library, community events and private hire.

"We have been in the process of applying for this money for some time but because our plans depended on the outcome of the housing stock transfer there have been some delays," said Clive Vincent, district councillor for Bemerton. "All we want is a fair and level playing field so we can put together our bid and it can be considered."

A spokesman for Salisbury District Council said: "The St Michael's community centre management committee proposed to make improvements to the centre and were advised that the expiry date of the old dairy site contribution was June 18 2007. They submitted their formal bid on this date.

"As the funds would then have been released after the expiry date of the Section 106 agreement, they were advised that in order to be able to demonstrate to the developer that the contribution had been committed, they should enter into contracts for the work to be done.

"In an attempt to remove the problem of the impending deadline, council officers had at the same time been trying to negotiate an extension to the period with the developer and this was subsequently extended for a further six months.

"The council's constitution states that officers can deal with the expenditure of Section 106 contributions up to a maximum figure of £30,000 where there is no objection from the local ward councillors. When contact was made an objection was raised, so the matter will now have to be determined by the city area committee at its meeting on July 5."