13 June 2013

Costs and Values: Confusion at The Manor

They weren't expecting many to turn out for the public meeting at Aldridge Manor House this evening, set up in haste to discuss the future of youth provision in the area. Chairs in a circle and no mic, even though there's  a perfectly good pa system installed. Despite the lack of publicity and the indecent short notice, people came. I'm not good on numbers unless I count and I didn't but I would say about  50 of all ages from the young to the old.

The two Councillors John Murray and John Rochelle from Aldridge Central and South were there as was the Deputy Leader of the Council, Adrian Andrew. It was good to see two Councillors from outside the ward; Gareth Illmann-Walker and Barbara Cassidy. Notable in absence were the two Councillors from Aldridge North and Walsall Wood who were not on their honeymoon, Harris and Sears.

I'm not sure what to say about what happened at the meeting as much of it was inaudible but the buzz words were 'building not fit for purpose'. This was the stock answer to most questions. Apparently youth leaders spend far too much time arranging maintenance rather than providing a youth service. If I was hoping that I would get answers to all the questions I had then I was to be disappointed but I think the gist is that

  • there was an impact assessment with regards to the building but there hasn't been one on the impact on withdrawing from using a permanent base for youth work in Aldridge
  • there are few if any suitable buildings in Aldridge for a permanent base and they're having difficulties in finding suitable bases for pop-ups too
  • there are talks with Aston Manor Transport Museum for using their premises as a base for automotive courses currently run from the Manor
  • the current building is not fit for purpose
  • there are no restrictive covenants within the title deeds of the building and ownership has not been registered with Land Registry.
  • The building is not yet on the market and has not been sold
  • A new build centre is not a possibility
In 2011 it was thought the sale of the Manor House would raise £1 million. Proceeds would be reinvested in the council's capital programme. It would not be earmarked specifically for Aldridge. The sale would produce revenue savings of £18,000 a year, less than a Cabinet member's current allowance. I think the nub of everything going on here is about the sale proceeds.

The meeting got a little heated at times, there was passion. What was clear to me was the impression that the meeting was only supposed to be for parents of those whose children attend the centre. There appears to be no desire to engage the wider community despite the fact that the provision of youth services affects the whole community as the older people who attended pointed out and will affect everyone in Walsall if the council can get away with their plans for Aldridge.

Cllr Rochelle suggested that part of the proceeds from the sale of the Manor House could be given to the parish church to aid the building of their new rooms in exchange for the use of the rooms for youth provision. No thanks Councillor.

There was no desire by the council for a further public meeting, they would have preferred to go on towards planning future provision. This is all well and good and yes planning should go ahead however there was little publicity for the meeting this evening and many people in the local community were unaware that it was taking place. Furthermore we as a community should be allowed to question what has happened up to this point, whether actions taken on our behalf are fulfilling all legal criteria, what should happen to a well loved community building and hold our local councillors to account for decisions they play a part in making on our behalf. A further public meeting to discuss these issues will be held sometime in July. Hopefully this will be given better publicity than the one tonight.

I'm still not sure what is happening, whether there will be a permanent base for youth services in Aldridge or not. There were very mixed messages this evening. The meeting was confused and confusing apart from the young people who turned up and spoke with the passion that is part of youth. They did their generation proud.

To think we may lose the place where they meet, relax, plan, learn and are cared for, all for £18,000 a year.

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