Council chiefs to decide fate of Leeds community centre after repairs bill put at close to £1m

westparkcentre4The fate of a popular North Leeds community centre shut down last month for safety reasons looks set to be decided finally by senior councillors in February.

Last month’s sudden closure of the West Park Centre on Spen Lane – which is home to the Leeds City Council schools arts service ArtForms and a host of community groups – has reignited a long-running row over the centre’s future.

The centre was shut at the beginning of November because, the council said, there were safety concerns over its electrical system.

Now a council report says that carrying out the urgent works needed to get the centre back open would cost £931,000 – that’s without adding in “fees, contingencies and inflation or any desirable works that are required”.

“Given the level of works necessary to bring the building back into use, any decision on its future will be taken by Executive Board. The current intention is to present a report to Executive Board in February 2013,” the report says.

Closure decision “justified”

WestParkCentreThe “independent” assessment – carried out by one of the council’s partners, the consultancy firm Arup – says that once the full extent of the dilapidation is established, the cost of turning the building into “a satisfactory environment for the activities housed there” could exceed £2.2m.

In terms of the immediate repairs, the Arup report suggests it would be feasible to close off one part of the building and re-open another, saving around 30% of the costs.

“The absence of compliant building services installations present a potential health and safety risk and in our opinion justify the decision to close the facility to public occupation appears justified (sic),” the council report quotes Arup as saying.

Political football

2010 - Labour campaign

2010 – Labour accuses

Built in the 1950s, the former school building has needed money spent on it for a long while. But the investment hasn’t been forthcoming.

For the past four years, the future of the centre has been a bit of a political football, kicked around by all three main political parties on the council – each one taking their turn to cry “foul, ref!”.

Back in 2010 it was Labour councillors and prospective MP Rachel Reeves who were accusing the then Tory-LibDem council of planning to sell the centre off for housing.

Now, with Labour running the council,  it’s the local Lib-Dems who are pointing the finger. When his Freedom of Information request to see the council’s correspondence and paperwork on the issue was turned down two weeks ago, MP Greg Mulholland responded:

2012 - Lib-Dems accuse

2012 – Lib-Dems accuse

“On top of the confusing and patchy statements, this only gives the impression to centre users and local residents that they (the council) have something to hide and will feed suspicion that the council had already decided what they wanted to do with the centre.”

Mulholland said a bid to set up a technical college on the site – which could have secured its continued use as a community and cultural centre – had been rejected by the council.

Local councillors, who have already told the council’s leadership they believe the centre should be retained, are going to be discussing the latest report and costings at a meeting on Thursday (13th December).

It’s open to the public. Details here.

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2 Responses to Council chiefs to decide fate of Leeds community centre after repairs bill put at close to £1m

  1. Who is responsible for maintaining these public assets? It almost feels like a policy of planned neglect is in place? It would certainly open up a very valuable piece of land in a desirable, even ‘aspirational’ part of the city…

    • It’s interesting that in Nov 2008 council officers were already saying that the buildings “are considered to be at the end of their economic life and investment in refurbishment could not be justified”.

      Then a year later, a full survey identified that over £900k needed spending on urgent, essential repairs over next two years, plus a further £1.28m in maintenance over the next five years.

      That money, we have to presume, was never spent.

      Planned neglect or not, what’s a bit alarming – given that the centre’s just been closed down because of ropey electrics – is that the 2009 survey report said: “the electrical installation is mostly original, approximately 58 years old and in poor condition and may constitute a fire risk”.

      Has it been left open for the last 3 years, even though it was known that the electrics posed a potential fire risk?

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