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Incensed councillors to fight on over Burton Centre

Wednesday, 30th January 2013.

Haverhill Town Councillors are to weigh up the chances and costs of a judicial review in their bid to take over the Burton Centre.

Members heard at last night's meeting that Suffolk County Council had failed to explain to their satisfaction its decision to hand the building over to St Nicholas Hospice instead of the town council.

Town councillors want it as a base for re-instating youth services in the town which have been cut by the county.

Town clerk Will Austin described how he had asked public questions at a full county council meeting in Ipswich, but had not received satisfactory answers.

The town council has described the bidding process for the building carried out by the county council as 'flawed'.

A meeting between the county's portfolio holder for property Cllr Lisa Chambers, Mr Austin and three town councillors had also proved unsatisfactoiry.

Mr Austin said the county kept changing its story and was unable to tie in what had happened with any policies it has in place.

The next move would be to see if it was possible to mount a legal challenge. To begin with the Suffolk Association of Local Councils (SALC) would be able to provide legal advice free, he said.

But if it went further, the town council could become involved in very high legal costs, particularly for a judicial review. It would be vital to establish there was a good chance of winning.

Members agreed they had to weigh up the chances of success with the possible cost to taxpayers, but felt they had to at least explore the issue further.

The county council had put forward the former courthouse in Camps Road as an alternative base for youth activities.

The Burton Centre was built and designed to deliver youth activities, so members felt it was ridiculous that they should have to spend huge amounts of money to convert another building, while the hospice was spending huge amounts of money to convert the Burton Centre to its needs.

Cllr Ernie Goody said Place Court, which would become redundant when the new care home was built on the site of Chalkstone Middle School, would be a much more suitable base for the hospice.

Mr Austin said the courthouse was not a very practical suggestion. "For youth provision," he said, "you would need an outdoor area and a foive-a-side pitch. We would have to demolish part of the building for that.

"It would probably cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to turn it into a centre we've already got down the road.

"The future of the Burton Centre and youth facilities in Haverhill is at stake. The county is giving away a building put together for that purpose.

"The consequence of us not doing anything is that we lose this opportunity."

Cllr Maureen Byrne said: "I can't tell you how sad and disappointed and cross I am about what has happened to the Burton Centre.

"We would have to spend a lot of money to adapt the alternative and the hospice is spending thousands and thousands to turn it into what they want. It's absolutely nuts."

Mr Austin said the issue was a real test of partnership working and the community budgeting idea for which Haverhill was taking part in a national project.

Cllr Roger Andre described the county's decision as 'perverse'.

"It undermines the whole localism agenda," he said. "We were promised we could change the world when we went into this national pilot scheme and we're just trying to change one perverse decision.

"We cannot be ignored, we should challenge this. We are brand leaders and leaders in the country in this. If necessary we should try to mobilise Eric Pickles and others."

Mr Pickles, the Secretary of State for communities and local government, launched the nationwide pilot project in which Haverhill is taking part.

Members agreed for Mr Austin to pursue the issue to legal advice from SALC, after which they would consider whether it was worth mounting a challenge in law.

Mr Austin said he would inquire through ONE Haverhill if they could talk to the Secretary of State about it, and would also make the town's MP Matthew Hancock aware of their campaign.

Haverhill Online News

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