Community centres repair budget scrapped

Date published: 09 July 2019

Half a million pounds earmarked for the upkeep of community centres has been scrapped by Rochdale Council.

The Community Centres Funding Project was set up in 2016 to bankroll a five-year programme of ‘essential repairs’ at 13 facilities across the borough.

Up to £250,000 was to be spent each year on the work.

Redacted council papers - which remove the centres’ names - say the project has ‘significantly improved some centres, whilst completely transforming others’.

To date the council has carried out £740k of improvements across 11 centres, including the replacement of obsolete boilers, asbestos removal and electrical rewiring.

The work is said to have ‘considerably extended’ the lifespan of some of the buildings.

But continuing with the scheme until 2021 would require a further cash injection of around £300k – a significant sum given the ‘financial pressures’ the council continues to face.

And in a behind-closed-doors meeting, cabinet members voted to bring an immediate halt to the programme – except for repairs to which it has already committed.

In practice this means that four community centres will now lose out on work that had been lined up.

It is feared the scrapping of the funding could see some centres fold if they are unable to meet the costs they are liable for in the future.

Patricia Colcough, manager at Back O’ The Moss Community Centre in Heywood – says a full refurbishment of the building carried out by the council last year was crucial in keeping it open.

Describing its previous state as ‘not fit for purpose’ she added: “We would probably have closed if we had not had it.

“I can’t say for certain, but it did really need quite a big upgrade which we were very grateful the council did for us.”

But despite its benefits, the report says the project has ‘triggered significant concerns’ – including the ability of the voluntary sector to maintain property in a safe condition.

Three buildings were said to pose a ‘serious risk of harm’ to those using them, while most of the others were also found to present hazards ‘to a lesser degree’.

Council officers report that a minority of community associations are ‘on top of building maintenance and statutory compliance’ but many were said to not understand the terms of their lease and therefore the ‘seriousness of the liabilities that arise from them’.

The report adds: “There appears to be a widespread belief that the council will always step in to assist voluntary sector tenants with their expenses. 

“There is therefore little motivation for the tenants to spend money on maintenance. This also undermines one of the original purposes of many community asset transfers, that of achieving cost savings from the transfer of all liabilities relating to a particular building.”

Council officers are to meet with bosses of the affected centres to discuss the ‘likely impact’ of the decision on their future operation.

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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