Councillors rebel to help save Stoke-on-Trent's community halls from council cuts
MORE than 5,000 residents have backed a campaign to save the city's community halls from council cuts.
Campaigners say at least three Labour councillors have broken ranks to sign the petition against Stoke-on-Trent City Council's plans to offload or shut the popular buildings.
And residents have secured enough signatures to trigger a formal debate on the £162,000 budget cut at the next full council meeting on October 18.
The 5,300-strong petition was handed in at the Civic Centre yesterday.
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Community halls face closure if the volunteers who run them do not agree to take over the facilities, which includes taking responsibility for staff and maintenance costs.
Community hall committees say they are prepared to pay a bigger contribution to reduce council subsidies but do not want to be legally responsible for the halls.
Labour councillor Debra Gratton – who represents Sneyd Green – and Baddeley, Milton and Norton councillors Duncan Walker and Andy Lilley, are all said to have signed the group's petition.
Mr Lilley said: "I have signed it because I want the issue to be revisited. I know Duncan Walker feels the same.
"I don't want to see Norton Community Hall closed. It's one of the most valuable community centres. I'm understanding about the budget position but it's in our ward and we've got to fight for it. I'll always try to fight for ward issues."
The committee at Norton Community Hall has offered to pay £5,000 a year towards the council's £17,500 subsidy.
Vice-chairman and campaign organiser Mick Salih said: "In the last 15 years we have spent £102,000 that we have raised on improving the facilities. Any profit we make is ploughed back into the hall.
"We are prepared to contribute more and help the council reduce its budget, but we don't want to take on the legal responsibilities, the insurance and the maintenance.
"The council forgets that we are volunteers. We do this because we want to, not because we have to.
"What's making us really angry is that they keep saying they are in negotiations with committees but really it is an ultimatum."
Abbey Hulton and Birches Head community halls have already been shut.
Halls in Bradeley, Joiner's Square, Meir Park, Norton, Packmoor, Smallthorne, Sneyd Green and Tunstall remain in limbo. The authority initially set an August deadline for resolving each hall's future.
Councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration, said the council's policy was to transfer or close the halls, some of which may be sold on at market value. "The cuts in funding for Stoke-on-Trent are the largest in living memory and these are unprecedented times," she said. "The council is in discussion with community groups, looking at all options. Progress has been made with some groups to move forward with a transfer, while other groups are still considering their positions."