Leeds City Council has been cleared by a watchdog of flaws in its decision-making and consultation process, following the controversial closure of a popular community centre last year,
West Park Centre in Spen Lane, West Park, was closed in November 2012 after concerns were raised about health and safety.
However the council’s long-term plan to pull down the education centre, and use some of the cash from selling the land to build an alternative community facility, caused outrage among some campaigners.
Objectors said there had been a lack of consultation about the sudden closure, and they feared for the future of many groups operating out of the building. Many also suggested the closure was premeditated for financial reasons.
This was despite up to £800,000 being made available to create a new community facility on the same site. Refurbishment would have cost £4.2m, the council said. The building has since been demolished,
A complaint about the nature of the closure of the centre was subsequently made to the Local Government Ombudsman, who has now reported back.
And a report to be presented to the council’s cabinet this week confirms the Ombudsman’s conclusion that: “While acknowledging the upset and inconvenience caused to users of the centre by the decisions made about its closure...my decision is that the council’s actions in this matter were not affected by fault.”
The report notes that the council did consult users both in 2011 and later after the temporary closure, and again before a final decision was taken on the future of the centre. It says the results of the consultation were “properly reported and taken into consideration as part of the decision-making process”.
“The council could not consult over the temporary closure or give advance notice to users of the centre because it was an emergency decision based on serious health and safety concerns,” the report adds.
“The long-term future of the centre and its availability for use by various groups had never been assured.
“The council was entitled to consider its options...and avoid large capital expenditure which could not be properly justified. This is not the same as saying the closure was premeditated on financial grounds,
“The evidence shows that the council properly considered its options and the decision-making process was not affected by fault.”
The report adds many of the groups who used the centre have now been re-housed.