The council’s plans to close Wanstead Youth Centre, a former school building in Elmcroft Road used by several community groups, were approved by cabinet on September 14 despite repeated pleas from its users.
Redbridge Council and its sports and leisure management body Vision RCL have decided the centre must close next month due to a “significant” running cost of £86,000 per year and an estimated refurbishment cost of £2.4 million.
In last-minute plans revealed last week, five days later than the legally required publication date, the council said it now wants to use £5.7 million in government funds to convert the building into an “education hub and youth centre”.
During a heated cabinet meeting, several speakers from a large group of campaigners urged Cllr Athwal to keep the centre open until the education hub plans are finalised.
Lead campaigner Liz Martins said the council began evicting user groups earlier this year, without consultation, as if the closure of the centre was a “fait accompli”.
She added: “Just last week you lost three substantive contracts consisting of providing a service to hundreds of young people.
“This is absolutely a travesty, it is a waste of public monies.
“Please, please, please give us a moratorium of at least 12 months – the process you described [to convert the centre] would take at least that length of time.”
But the Labour cabinet rejected the campaigners’ pleas and asked council staff to draw up detailed plans to convert the building.
Cllr Athwal said there is a risk that parts of the building, such as the boiler, could fail at any time and force it to close without warning.
He added: “What we want to do is make sure that the people that you service users are not left with nowhere to go overnight because the facility closed down because something broke.
“What we want to do is manage that closure and then what we want to do is bring something back as soon as possible.
“If something goes wrong, those youth or those service users will have nowhere to go.
“You have got to manage the whole closure – you can’t let the process manage you.
“If the process manages you, then we will be letting down a lot of people and a lot of the places that are available at the moment may get taken over and suddenly some of those clubs are going to have to close for good, and we don’t want that to happen.”
He later added: “Just give us a chance, everybody in on these [town hall] benches are local residents.
“I’ve lived here for 53 years and in those 53 years, I didn’t come forward to make anybody’s life a misery – I’m trying to do the best job here.
“And what I’m saying to you is you’ve done your part for your suggestion, the money for education services may not be there in a year’s time – if it’s not there in a year’s time, we are looking at a catastrophic solution, which nobody in this room wants.”
For more details of the council’s plans for Wanstead Youth Centre, visit: https://moderngov.redbridge.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=267&MId=8639