There has been a partial account of Blaenhonddan Council’s decision to cease to operate Caewern community hall. It is unfortunate that neither the Guardian nor the Evening Post were able to send a reporter to the public meeting last Monday at which the issues were addressed. That meeting listened to the protests from the two users of the hall who felt that the six weeks notice given was insufficient for them to make other arrangements, and that, since the council’s accounting year ran until April, the existing precept should take account of running costs until then.
Cllr. Peters (Plaid Cymru) successfully moved suspension of standing orders so that an amendment could be made to the original decision. The hall will now stay open until April. My own view is that the matter of the precept is somewhat irrelevant, and, though December 31st was a tight deadline, a further month should have been sufficient.
Let’s state the facts on which the decision was made, since they rather got lost in the general furore last Monday.
Caewern community centre is less than a kilometre away from a more spacious, purpose-built, 21st-century centre, the Owain Glyndwr.
It requires work to bring it up to modern safety standards. The cost of this work is not yet known, but it will be of the order of thousands of pounds.
In 2007/8, it cost over £1200 per month (in rates, utilities, maintenance, cleaning materials and caretaker wages) to run. The receipts were less than £170 per month on average.
We therefore propose in the short term to close the centre, saving on the running costs and hopefully increasing the revenue of the Owain Glyndwr, which is also running at a loss. We are giving the two groups, who currently use the centre regularly, a few months to decide whether to relocate to the Owain Glyndwr on the same terms, or to make other arrangements.
In the long term, we are looking to give up the lease on the centre to the owners, Neath Port Talbot County Borough. Although we cannot force a break in the contract until 2011, under the terms of the lease, we are seeking to negotiate an end to the lease by mutual agreement.
We accept that the primary purpose of such halls is to provide a service to the community, not to make a profit. However, we must seek to make best use of the council taxpayers’ money while maintaining that service.
The only reason for holding in camera the meeting which decided on the closure was because confidential staff matters were involved.
I am not in the business of closing centres for the sake of it. Each facility must be looked at on a case-by-case basis. This will involve not only economies, but also encouraging their use to maximise their potential.
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