A campaign to save South Cerney Outdoor Education Centre has been launched amid complaints of a lack of consultation and fears that the site could be offered up to developers. Campaigners have launched a campaign to bring in the 5,000 signatures needed to drive a new debate on the closure.
Thousands of children and adults of all abilities and backgrounds, including schools, youth people’s groups and trainee instructors, have benefitted from the lakeside facility, which was opened in 1971 to promote outdoor learning and to offer low-cost water based activities. SCOEC, at the heart of the South Cerney lakes just south of Cirencester, is used by young people through Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.
It is a not-for-profit organisation and is a specialist provider for those with challenging behaviour and for young people with special needs, with particular attention given to disabled access. It costs Gloucestershire County Council £200,000 a year to run.
It is believed that the 25 full time staff at the Centre have already been given redundancy notices ahead of the budget decision – and have been given strict instructions not to talk to the press.
Now outraged locals are joining forces to challenge the decision, which were ratified in the budget proposals which went before Gloucestershire County Council’s full council on Wednesday.
Cirencester resident Jill Parsons, who has set up a Facebook page to campaign to save SCOEC, said: “Everyone I know is completely shocked by this decision. My daughters, like so many children here, love to use the facilities at South Cerney and the staff are fantastic. There has been no consultation – it was a bolt from the blue.
“And there is only talk of closure and redundancy, rather than giving locals the opportunity to investigate taking over the running, just as the Big Society is supposed to do. What’s happened to local accountability?
“This site is one of a very few that local people can actually access, as so many of the Lakes have been sold off to developers to build second homes, whose occupants are much less likely to use local services and who remain separated from those of us who actually pay the council tax.
“I would rather GCC got rid of its climate change officers, Europe officers and diversity officers, which cost council tax payers in Gloucestershire around £250,000 a year, and saved a fantastic, unique outdoor centre that benefits us all.”
Cllr Will Windsor Clive, cabinet member for community safety and youth, said: “We went out to consultation with staff, stakeholders and service users of South Cerney Outdoor Education Centre from 6 December 2010 to 31 January 2011 and we were very clear that Gloucestershire County Council was proposing to stop providing outdoor educational services.
“The council can no longer afford to run the centre, that’s the bottom line and that’s why we have to consider our options going forward.
“During these difficult financial times, the council has to focus its budget on working with vulnerable young people who need our help the most.”
Inquiries are also being made as to whether a move to close the Centre without consultation would be illegal under the Equalities Act 2010, which demands that equalities impact assessments are undertaken to make sure than no specific groups are unfairly disadvantaged.
The e-petition is on Gloucestershire County Council’s website here.