Will Wiltshire Council listen to "the voice of thousands of children"? Council votes for "every best effort" to keep Oxenwood & Braeside centres open
Lucy Gomes’s petition opposing the closure of Braeside and Oxenwood Outdoor Education Centres was presented and discussed at Wiltshire Council’s meeting at County Hall, Trowbridge (May 22). The petition, she said, was, “the voice of thousands of children.”
With nearly 16,000 signatures it is the largest petition ever received by the council. It reveals the strength of feeling from the public and is, as described by one of the councillors “a wake-up call for Wiltshire Council.”
Outside County Hall supporters of the centres held a noisy demonstration.
Presenting the petition Lucy Gomes spoke of the tremendous value and enrichment that both centres have brought to generations of children: “Nowhere else can children get the unique experiences these centres offer.”
She remains certain that due process was not followed in the decision to close the centres: “I have not encountered one headteacher who was consulted. Party politics wins over the views of the public…councillors have voted according to their party rather than reflecting the views of the towns and villages they represent.”
The case against closure was also made by Amanda Humphries who wanted to know why the figures used as a rationale for closing Braeside were from 2012.
Alan Rankin, Chair of Devizes Constituency LibDems, Sylvia Card, Chair of Devizes Constituency Labour Party and its Vice-chair, Rachel Ross, pointed out that Wiltshire Council had not considered the social value of the centres in their decision.
Alan Rankin told councillors: “Help in calculating the value created by outdoor education services is available from several academic and research institutions. A short term decision to favour the immediate needs of the purse, may have expensive detrimental effects on statutory services and the future happiness and well-being of the people of Wiltshire.”
In response, Councillor Laura Mayes said the decision to close the centres “Was without doubt the most difficult decision I have made…I really do understand the strength of feeling and support the benefits of outdoor education…I agree with Lucy Gomes that these centres don’t have to be run by Wiltshire Council in order to stay open.'
"There are a number of parties, who have made excellent proposals, who could take over… I propose we take account of the issues raised this morning when making decisions at our next council meeting.”
Councillor Ian Thorn, who leads the LibDem group on Wiltshire Council, wanted the proposal taken further. He praised Lucy Gomes’s “magnificent speech.” He pointed out that the speakers were “absolutely right”, the council had ignored the “social dimension” and had “presented a series of arguments that undermine the figures.”
He appealed to councillors to “step away from their party” to ensure the centres were kept open.
Councillor Thorn then put forward an amendment to Laura Mayes’s proposal that refered the decision back to cabinet. His amendment said: “Any decision taken should be open and transparent, social impacts should be equal to financial impacts. The council will guarantee that the two sites will remain as outdoor centres for the young people of our county.”
He was told that the word ‘guarantee’ could not be used as it would fetter the council’s decision. It was replaced with ‘will make every best effort’ - and so became acceptable to Conservative councillors.
The amended proposal was accepted by a vote of 88 in favour, none against and one abstention.
The final decision concerning the future of the centres will be made at a full Wiltshire Council cabinet meeting on June 12. “We will do our best to find very good alternative providers to take over the centres,” said Councillor Laura Mayes.
LATER NEWS: Lucy Gomes has posted an update to her change.org petition: "Wiltshire Council have listened to their constituents. They have committed to carry out an open and transparent review of the bids from interested organisations - of which there are several - to take over the running of Braeside and Oxenwood. This could not have been achieved without the support of each and every person who signed the petition so a massive thank you to all of you. No petition would have meant no debate.
WE CAN DO THIS. WE CAN KEEP BRAESIDE AND OXENWOOD OPEN."
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