Campaigners fight on as confusion reigns over community centre's fate

Campaigners fight on as confusion reigns over community centre's fate

COUNCIL chiefs may end up in court over the future of a derelict Thornhill community centre, a campaigner has claimed.

Khizar Iqbal wants to get to the bottom of how councillors were seemingly kept in the dark about a controversial demolition order for the Walker Welfare Centre.

Kirklees Council could flatten the historic Edge Lane building, which was home to the Thornhill Senior Citizens Group for 40 years, as early as August 22.

The move was made after the three Dewsbury South councillors backed the centre’s restoration at a public meeting.

Tory Coun Salim Patel and Labour’s Coun Masood Ahmed and Coun Abdul Patel all then allegedly heard about the demolition from the media.

Coun Patel (Con) insisted he spoke at the meeting in good faith and had no idea of the demolition order until newspaper reports appeared.

Now Mr Iqbal, a former Dewsbury South councillor, wants the truth about the former free school building and community centre, and said: “I know from 14 years in local government how the council works.

“Prior to a demolition notice being agreed, whether delegated to officers or by a council committee, all ward members must be consulted.

“If they weren’t, then the notice is invalid and the council have breached their own protocols and are exposed to a potential judicial review.”

A council spokesman said Kirklees acted at all times on the evidence, in accordance with its statutory duties and on legal advice.

Mr Iqbal insisted: “Either the elected members are not telling the truth, or Kirklees are in breach of the process.

“If the councillors are adamant they weren’t consulted will they call for the demolition notice to be withdrawn with immediate effect?”

Coun Patel said he had done just that in a letter to council chief executive Adrian Lythgo asking for a meeting with officials.

He added: “People are really upset. I’m 100 per cent behind my constituents. I’ve made it clear that the council needs to reconsider.”

The issue has seen a campaign group, Save Walker Welfare Again, formed and a petition launched which had 300 signatures by Tuesday.

Residents face a race against time as the demolition, on the grounds of public safety, is earmarked for Thursday August 22.

In a further twist the Charity Commission has told MP Simon Reevell it thinks that Kirklees Council is the sole trustee of the building.

They told Mr Reevell that two charitable trusts, for land nearby and the old headteacher’s house, are thought to have been wound up.

But a third, dating from 1922 for the former Walker’s Free School which was turned into the welfare centre, is believed to be still active.

Mr Reevell (Con, Dewsbury and Mirfield) said trustees, if there are any, might be personally liable for how the building was left to rot.

The Press has seen emails from the Charity Commission to Mr Reevell. It is thought only a court can rule on the existence of a trust.

Kirklees planned to give the centre and £100,000 for repairs to a community group, but legal wrangles meant the deal never happened.

Mr Reevell added he raised the issues with Mr Lythgo and was told the centre might be spared if a use can be found for it.

The MP said: “If some ideas could be put forward the (demolition) deadline might be put back. I don’t think the council would guillotine the process.”

On potential legal problems the council spokesman added: “The situation relating to the building and the land on which it stands is complex.

“The existence of a trust is currently, and has been previously, the subject of differing legal opinion from the Charity Commission.

“Our lawyers are now in further discussions with the Charity Commission about recent attempts to clarify the position.

“But our two senior lawyers are both of the opinion that a charitable trust was not created.”

Share this post