Fury at community centre plans

ANGRY residents in an Essex town voiced their fury last night at plans to close their community centre and sell the land for housing. Braintree District Council is considering relocating Spring Lodge Community Centre in Witham to a new site in Stevens Road more than a mile away.

By Annie Davidson

ANGRY residents in an Essex town voiced their fury last night at plans to close their community centre and sell the land for housing.

Braintree District Council is considering relocating Spring Lodge Community Centre in Witham to a new site in Stevens Road more than a mile away. The current Spring Lodge site could then be sold to a developer.

It is home to more than 50 activity groups for all ages, many of which were represented at last night's meeting.


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The centre is managed by Witham Community Association, which has been leased the site on a peppercorn rent since the early 1970s, but the lease is up for renewal in March - sparking the doubts over its future.

Braintree District Council has said it needs to spend at least £250,000 upgrading facilities at many of its 14 community halls to make them comply with disability access regulations - forcing it to look at all options, including selling-off the site and moving the centre.

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At last night's public meeting held by Witham Town Council, residents called for the district council to abandon the relocation plans.

Miriam Clark, honorary secretary of Witham Community Association, said: "Is it the case that the final decision will be made by some councillors at Braintree District Council likely to know little about Witham's community centres and halls, or for that matters other important parts of Witham's social and community infrastructure because they live miles away?"

Graham Wingrove, chairman of Third Witham Scout and Guide Group, told the meeting that the Spring Lodge site served many parts of the town.

Resident Pat Chew said: "This is a community centre for Witham. It is making money it is not losing money - why can't we modernise the centre? Why do we have to knock it down?"

Connie Charlesworth said he had understood years ago that the centre was built "for the people of Witham by the people of Witham" and questioned how could the district council sell it. Witham mayor Bob Evans said the ownership had been transferred in 1974.

But he said the town council would be trying to persuade Braintree District Council to rethink its plans and retain the Spring Lodge site. He said: "We are taking on board every comment and will be raising these issues with the district council."

Chairman of Witham Community Association, Sheila Gunson, said: "We will do whatever we have to do to stay on the Spring Lodge site. We would like a new building if possible, if not we would be satisfied with renovation to meet all the needs required with EU legislation coming out later this year.

"Surely it would be a feather in Braintree District Council's cap to keep Spring Lodge on its present site, failure to do so will result not only in a breakdown in the community but also a vote loser in the next elections which are no too far away."

The proposals are currently at the consultation stage.

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