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Children’s centre the target for sell-off?

Fears building that’s been used by school and holiday clubs is to go

02 July, 2021 — By Tom Foot

A PURPOSE-built children’s centre could be sold off to private developers as part of a potential fire sale of council-owned premises.

Bayswater Children’s Centre, in Shrewsbury Road, is one of a number of publicly-owned premises threatened as part of a new “focus away from physical spaces”. The centre was shut four years ago during a wave of cuts during the austerity years.

The “kidney-bean” shaped building has been used by a school and for holiday clubs while businesses are renting meeting rooms and office space there. But now the council is considering whether to sell up or redevelop the site, according to a report that reveals several other publicly-owned “assets” are facing a similar “options appraisal”.

They include the former Connexions building in Lupus Street, Pimlico, a former Queen’s Park Children’s Centre and Lisson Cottages in Lisson Grove.

Westminster Labour group leader, Cllr Adam Hug, said: “It is deeply concerning that Westminster Council is considering selling off the Bayswater Children’s Centre, little over 10 years after it was built. After the challenges of the pandemic, young families in Westminster need more support and opportunities so this purpose-built space should be used to deliver it.”

The Conservative-run city council announced vast sums would be cut from the young people and families’ budget in 2016.
It led to “stay and play” service being axed at the Bayswater centre and also provision for two-year-olds across the borough.

When the council’s former children’s and schools chief Nickie Aiken became leader she reversed many of the cutbacks, admitting that they should never have happened.

In a speech in 2019, a year before she became the MP for Cities of London and Westminster, she said: “When we had to make the tough decision to withdraw funding for youth services three years ago, we lost the trust of many people, but more importantly we alienated young people in our city.

“That’s not the type of council I want to lead and so, from this September, we will make £500,000 available each year to invest in the best youth services across Westminster.

“Politicians have to back their words with actions to win back trust.”

Despite the change in policy, Cllr Hug said this week there remained an urgent, unmet, need for support for young people.

And Bayswater Labour councillor Maggie Carman added: “Families across Bayswater used to benefit from the children’s centre in the past and they still use the holiday club there today.”

A Westminster Council spokesperson said: “No decision to close the site has been made and suggestions to the contrary are baseless.

“If the school ceases to make use of the site then we will consult with local residents and stakeholders about all options that could enhance our provision of services for children and young people across the city.

“The council continues to offer an extensive range of services for young people in Westminster.

“Our children’s services, and the centres and hubs in particular, are among the most highly rated in the country.”

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