‘Local people will die’ - Campaigners warn of bleak future in North Kirklees after protest march from Batley to Dewsbury to prevent closures of public buildings
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Organised by community-led group Stop The Closures, the campaigners gathered at Batley Town Hall before marching to Dewsbury Town Hall - resulting in Bradford Road being closed off - in protest against Kirklees Council earmarking a number of buildings in the district - including Batley Sports and Tennis Centre, Dewsbury Sports Centre, Cleckheaton Town Hall, Batley Library and Claremont House Care Home in Heckmondwike - to be permanently closed.
After the event, a spokesperson for Stop The Closures said:
“It was fantastic. The police were absolutely amazing and accommodating throughout and were very supportive. We closed down Bradford Road for almost 45 minutes and we marched over 200 people from Batley to Dewsbury.
“We had some really empowering and inspirational speeches from people like Andy’s Man Club and Claremont House. We talked about the young people that aren’t going to see the opportunities that we have had if these closures occur.
“But the biggest message that came from the protest was that if these closures do occur, then local people will die; young people and elderly. We are asking the council to find another way and propose a different plan.
“There are more cons than pros and therefore it shows that this plan is not fit for purpose. It will have detrimental effects on our communities, and that’s across Kirklees, north and south.”
Explaining the council’s “very difficult decisions”, Coun Graham Turner, cabinet member for finance said:
“The economic situation that we are facing in the UK is having a significant impact on everyone, including local councils. I fully understand that residents are passionate about our much-loved buildings and services. This is not a position we wanted to find ourselves in, nor is it one we take lightly.
“Constant underfunding by Government, combined with the long-term impacts of COVID, and increased energy prices, means more of our council budgets are being absorbed by statutory (legally required) and other essential front-line services.
“This has left us having to make very difficult decisions on the ongoing provision of other services.
“I would like to thank the nearly 18,000 people who contributed to the Leisure Centre Consultation. Officers are now analysing the responses, and these will be taken into consideration as part of the final decision-making process alongside legal, financial and health inequalities information. The final report will be presented to cabinet in December.
“As we work through this difficult process of balancing our budget, we remain committed to a transparent and consultative approach, and I would encourage anyone who feels strongly about one of our proposals to take the time to get involved in the associated consultation or engagement activity.
“To those marching I hope that your passion and commitment highlights the need for fair funding by central government.”
On the future of Batley and Dewsbury libraries, as well as Cleckheaton Town Hall, he added:
“Batley and Dewsbury Libraries are not closing. We want to make sure we can deliver these valued services more efficiently by moving them into nearby buildings. A consultation on the service delivery in the new library premises will be launching shortly.
“With regards to Cleckheaton Town Hall, as detailed in the Assets Review report presented to Cabinet on September 26, 2023, the building will be mothballed to allow a further detailed condition assessment to take place. The result of this work will be reviewed, and a property appraisal undertaken to determine what options are available to the council for both the repair of and the future use of the building.”
The spokesperson for Stop The Closures added:
“We do not want to fight against the council. This is not a war. We want to communicate and build a partnership.
“But if the council does not listen during this period of consultation then the campaign will do what we see is right and fit in a formal and productive manner following protocol whether that’s in a court of law, outside lobbying council or anything that we deem necessary to prevent these closures and save local lives.”
Batley and Spen MP, Kim Leadbeater, has also stepped up her campaign to save Batley Sports and Tennis Centre from closure by meeting with sports and leisure groups that regularly use the facilities.
She said: “I promised I would explore every possible avenue for keeping this vital amenity open and that is what I have done. I have no control over the council’s finances but what I can do is make the strongest possible case that the cost of closure for the community would be completely unacceptable.
“I’m delighted that user groups from right across the area joined me for a very constructive meeting at my office. I’ve made sure Kirklees councillors and officers have been given all the evidence for why Batley Sports and Tennis Centre should stay open.”