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Closure of Outdoor Education Centres a “Disgrace”

April 3, 2018 1:15 PM

Wiltshire residents from across the political spectrum have reacted with anger to news that the Conservative administration in County Hall have voted to close the county's two outdoor education centres.

The facilities, Oxenwood near Marlborough and Braeside in Devizes are now set to close in August after the decision was taken in a secret session of the council's Cabinet last Tuesday that excluded members of the press and public.

Indeed, so secret was the issue that there was no hint in the agenda papers released by the council and staff from the two centres were not told until the end of the following day.

Liberal Democrat councillor Jon Hubbard, who chairs the council's Children's Select Committee has blasted the decisions saying that it "fails the young people in our communities and yet again puts the purse before the people."

Speaking following the decision Cllr Hubbard commented, "The are not facilities that are building up huge deficits or are failing to deliver a decent service - in fact Braeside was forecast to return a profit this year. They are great centres that are run by hard-working dedicated members of staff who go above and beyond on a regular basis to deliver for our children and young people. To treat them like this is frankly shoddy.

"At the cabinet meeting last week, the Conservatives claimed that they had to close the centres because the repair bill for the buildings was so high. It was presented as if this was a new cost that they had just become aware of. In fact, they were first told that the buildings would need a series of repairs over the next 10 to 15 years back in 2010. They have ignored and sat on this report hoping it would just go away.

"Children and young people in Wiltshire will be paying for this negligence for years to come as we see yet another one of our precious facilities asset stripped by this heartless administration.

"This service could have been saved. It could have been enhanced. Its future could have been guaranteed - it's just that the Conservative run administration didn't want to.

"I wrote to the Cabinet member last Wednesday seeking some assurances regarding the continuation of programmes run from the centres, such as the important Gifted and Talented scheme run at Braeside. As of yet, the Cabinet Member has not bothered to even acknowledge my note, let alone give an answer.

"It's not too late to stop this decision and rethink the options for the centres. I am calling on the cabinet member to listen to what the public are saying. So far nearly ten thousand members of the public have signed a petition set up by a local resident. Put on the brakes, sit down round the table and let's have a constructive and forward-thinking conversation about how we can save and protect these vital facilities for our young people."

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Wiltshire Council, Cllr Ian Thorn, commented "The decision to close the Outdoor Education Centres is the result of years of under investment and neglect by Wiltshire Council. It's another example of poor long term planning and the loss of another vital local service."