The row over the closure of a popular community centre in north Leeds looks set to take a new turn after internal council correspondence revealed serious doubts about its safe operation over the past few years.
Leeds City Council shut down the West Park Centre suddenly in November last year citing concerns over its electrical system.
Now email correspondence released in response to a Freedom of Information request* has raised serious questions about if and when the building’s antiquated electrical system – known to be a potential safety risk – was tested in the three years prior to the centre’s closure.
One of the emails also suggests that at the time it was shut down the building’s asbestos and legionella surveys were out of date and that there was no record of any fire risk assessment having been carried out. All three are required by law.
The CPM team inspected the building soon after it took over, found (among other serious issues) that the vast majority of the electrical installation was in a “very poor state”, and advised that anyone continuing to use the building would be at potential risk.
That led to the building’s sudden closure – and outrage from users and local councillors.
So far, so sensible.
The trouble is that it had been known for years that the electrics posed a potential risk. A survey carried out in autumn 2009 for Education Leeds had already indicated that the building’s ageing electrical installation (it’s the original one from the 1950s) was in a poor condition and might constitute a fire risk.
The 2009 survey recommended that the wiring (original too) needed priority attention and should either be replaced within a year or tested to verify its safety. It advised too that the fire alarm and emergency lighting systems were in poor condition, didn’t comply with British Standards and should be replaced.
It also recommended that a full inspection and testing of the electrical system be carried out and remedial work completed.
So, what do you do when you get a report like that, when you’ve got 2,000 members of the public going through the building you’re responsible for every week?
If you’re reluctant to spend the money to fix the problems identified, you at least make sure you carry out regular inspections and tests – to keep the public safe – and keep records of the tests – to cover your back in case something goes badly wrong.
Records not available
So, was that full electrical inspection recommended in 2009 carried out? If it was, no-one seems to be aware of it.
Was the remedial work carried out? Nope.
Was the electrical system tested at all in the following three years? Scarily, at the time of the centre’s closure no-one seemed to know.
The CPM report on the property which led to the decision to close the centre is contained in one of the released emails. It says at one point (my underlining):
And that recommended remedial work?
A survey of the building carried out for the council after last November’s closure (also released under FOI along with the emails) checked to see which of the 16 electrical issues identified for priority attention in the 2009 report had been dealt with.
And the answer? None. “No remedial work appears to have been undertaken” is entered against each.
Salmonella, asbestos, and fire risk assessments
And here’s what else the CPM inspection found when it visited the building in autumn last year:
What happens next?
It’s a pretty grim picture.
At some point between the last known survey (2009) and autumn 2012 the West Park Centre became unsafe to use, but no-one at the council seems to know whether that was in 2010, 2011 or a month before it was closed down.
So, the 2,000 people using the centre every week could have been running a serious risk for at least two years – possibly longer, given that the 2009 survey recommendation to carry out full electrical testing appears to have been ignored.
The emails reveal that it didn’t take long for questions to be asked at the very top of the council about what had been going on.
Here’s the key one being asked on behalf of the senior councillor in charge of economic matters, Richard Lewis:
No answer is included in the emails released under FOI. No doubt we’ll find out in due course.
Here’s another pertinent question from an irate and redacted sender (we can guess who) asking to see the then executive board member responsible for adult social care, Cllr Lucinda Yeadon.
The last word goes to council chief executive Tom Riordan, who, as soon as he found out about the closure of West Park, emailed one of his senior officers . “Are there other buildings we own with similar problems?”
That’s a good question too. Somebody is looking into it, said the reply.
For earlier stories about the centre’s closure, click here and follow the trail backwards.
(The long-term future of the centre is back up for discussion by the council’s executive at its meeting in June)