Taking on Stoke-on-Trent's halls would be a 'liability'
COMMUNITY hall volunteers are being given one last chance to put together business plans to save them closure.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has admitted the majority of its halls face closure because so few management committees appear willing to submit business plans to run them independently before the December 3 deadline.
An initial deadline for expressions of interest has now passed – and it is understood just a handful of the remaining 10 hall committees have come forward.
Council officials today refused to reveal which hall committees have lodged expressions of interest.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
The council operates community halls in Tunstall, Packmoor, Norton and Ball Green, Goldenhill, Bentilee, Meir Park, Joiners Square, Smallthorne, Bradeley and Fenton. Halls in Birches Head and Smallthorne have already been closed down.
Committees which are unable to agree a deal will see their halls shut on January 31 to save £162,000-a-year in council subsidies.
Groups have raised concerns about taking on responsibility for long-term maintenance bills and employee contracts - despite the fact they will technically remain tenants in a council-owned property.
They are also unhappy with council conditions attached to asset transfers, such as repair work having to be carried out by Kier.
Meir Park community hall volunteers claim to have shelled out £8,000 on a new wooden floor to allow children to play sports – only to be told three days later that the hall was set to close.
The group said it has had three business plans, one of which included buying the hall for £1 and taking on full ownership, turned down by the authority.
Fred Ball, aged 71, of Meir Park, a committee member at the hall, said: "We have decided not to take it on. The council wouldn't allow us to go forward without meeting all of their conditions.
"There has been a lack of support, and we don't want to commit ourselves to take on a building we will never own but will have total responsibility for.
"After the Olympics we wanted to replace the carpet with a wooden floor to enable us to hold children's sports activities. It was our choice and so we went and paid for it – with their agreement.
"Three days after the work was completed they told us the hall would be closing on January 31. I don't know why they didn't tell us to hang fire. The building will now be sold or boarded-up and left to rack and ruin."
Norton Community Hall is holding a general meeting tonight but volunteers are resigned to its closure.
Mick Salih, a member of Norton community hall's management committee, said: "We have put the feelers out to see if anybody in the community can take this forward and the overwhelming response has been no.
"It's not a community asset transfer, it's a liability transfer. We are volunteers who do this because we want to, not because we have to.
"It becomes a job when you are responsible for employees and long-term maintenance; the building is 50 years old and our income does not cover it.
"We were prepared to work that little bit harder to reduce the council subsidy year-on-year. It may have taken a few years but it would have given us a chance."
Councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration, planning and transport said: "There is a community asset transfers policy and the council will support and assist groups where possible, to achieve this.
"With respect to community halls it was decided at full council that they will transfer or close by January 2013, some are in the process of finalising their plans while some have decided not to continue.
"Any new community groups which have not registered an expression of interest can still approach the council to work on drafting a business plan."