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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Rothwell residents “betrayed” by decision to auction off civic building

People in Rothwell have been “betrayed” by the decision to auction off the town’s old civic building, the area’s local councillors have claimed.

Leeds City Council will sell Rothwell’s old urban district offices off to the highest bidder, seven years after local authority staff vacated the building.

The town’s Liberal Democrat councillors have responded furiously to the news and claimed the council has walked away from a deal that would see the property transferred to the local community.

But the local authority said the decision had been made to bring in cash, as it faces one of the worst financial crises in its history.

Councillor Conrad Hart-Brooke
Image: Leeds City Council

Councillor Conrad Hart-Brooke said: “This is a betrayal. The Labour-run council wouldn’t dream of selling off Leeds Civic Hall, so why is OK to auction off our heritage in communities like ours?

“Over the years they have shown no respect for the building, gradually neglecting it, and ultimately pulling out staff and declaring the building ‘surplus to requirements’ in 2016.”

Local group Friends of Rothwell Civic Enterprise (FORCE) had formed in 2017 in an effort to take over the building and turn it into a social enterprise and community space.

The award-winning Rothwell Temperance Band were among the groups who it was hoped could have made use of the premises.

“We’ve very little left in Rothwell that was ‘old Rothwell’,” Mrs Webster, a near-lifelong resident of the area said.

“If this goes, all we’ll have left is the church. It’s heartbreaking.

“The bottom line is the council want to get money for it, but once it’s gone it’s gone.”

The building, on Marsh Street was built in the 19th century. The property transferred to Leeds Council after Rothwell became part of the city in the 1970s, when local government was reorganised.

Mrs Webster said she’d “not given up hope” of persuading the council to change its mind, with local people planning to demonstrate outside the venue on Sunday afternoon.

She added: “It seems unfair that the council want to sell it, when it wasn’t theirs in the first place.”

Councillor Stewart Golton
Image: Leeds City Council

Councillor Stewart Golton, who’d backed FORCE, also criticised the local authority, saying: “All that was needed to get this building up on its feet and bringing life back to Rothwell town centre was an agreement from the council offering a lease in principle.

“However, the council hierarchy have blocked us at every step, even ignoring our emails over the past year.”

In response, a spokesperson for the local authority said it had to plug a £30m hole in its budget, which has emerged amid rising costs and demand for services.

They added: “In order to meet this challenge, and fulfil the legal obligation to deliver balanced budgets each year, we have reached the stage where we need to look at every option no matter how unpalatable, which along with the possibility of compulsory redundancies also includes building closures, asset sales and stopping or reducing some council services, which will no doubt have an impact.

The council said it was “important the property is sold to reduce the costs incurred by the council in holding the building”.

They added: “Given the scale of the funding shortfall we will be looking at every building in the council estate from the Civic Hall to local community facilities, to identify what can be disposed of while still providing services to the public.”

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