Council officers have admitted that it was wrong that an event went ahead at a council-run centre in north Leeds the day after it was suddenly closed down because of concerns about the safety of the electrics.
There was an outcry from centre users and local politicians last November when it was discovered that 200 guests including the city’s Lord Mayor had attended the function at the West Park Centre – an arts, educational and community centre on Spen Lane – 24 hours after the building was condemned as unsafe.
The admission, which comes in a report drafted for a meeting of councillors on 17th September, will be of little comfort to local people, users of the centre and local politicians who campaigned for months to keep the centre open.
Because in July this year the council’s leaders finally decided that the centre is to be demolished and its land sold off for development. The groups who used it have mostly been dispersed to other accommodation.
The report says that cancelling the event would have would have caused “significant disruption to a large number of people and damage to the reputation of the Council”. So it went ahead.
“It is acknowledged that this was the wrong decision and the event should not have been allowed to proceed,” the report says.
The meeting on the 17th of this month – set up as long ago as February when the fate of the centre was still up in the air – has now turned into a post mortem.
Councillors will be trying to unravel the long and complicated story of how and why the centre was suddenly closed and what lessons, if any, can be drawn from the way the process was managed.
Getting to the truth isn’t going to be made easier by the fact that the centre has been used for so long as a political football – with local parties taking shots at each other over alleged secret plans to sell it off – that nobody may have the appetite left to ask any awkward questions.
I’ve got one:
In September 2009 a survey of the building found that its electrical installation was in a poor state and constituted a potential fire risk.
It recommended that the wiring be replaced within a year or tested to verify its safety; that the (non-compliant) fire alarm and emergency lighting systems be replaced; and that a full inspection and testing of the electrical system be carried out and remedial work completed.
It was ignored.
Despite the fact that 2,000 members of the public were walking through the centre’s doors every week, over the next three years NO remedial work was carried out on the electrics, the wiring was never replaced or tested and NO fire risk assessments were carried out.
How did that happen? And why? And what does it say about the approach to Health & Safety in council buildings?