Disabled groups lose out to ‘free’ school company investing �4million

Charity and community groups have vowed to fight back after Redbridge Council decided to close a popular community centre to make way for a much-needed primary school.

Cabinet members agreed on Tuesday to close the Downshall Centre, in Aldborough Road South, Seven Kings, to make way for the �4million “free” school that could be opened as soon as September by the academy schools provider E-Act.

But the decision left scores of the centre’s users, many of whom are disabled, furious that they had just one week to make their case before a decision was made.

Arthritis Self-help Network president, Diane Wynne-Fitzgerald, said: “There has been no consultation made for this undemocratic decision.

“They are not giving us enough time and they are not listening to the voice of the people.”

Mrs Wynne-Fitzgerald, who is also a trustee of the charity Training for Transition, warned: “Closing the centre will have serious ramifications in other areas and with other charities in the borough.”

The council first wrote to users of the centre on Tuesday last week informing them of their plans to build the 420-place school by September.

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Cabinet member for children’s services, Cllr Alan Weinberg, says the council must, by law, provide enough school places and the current shortage in primary classes means he has no choice but to force through the plans for the government-funded school.

Cllr Weinberg added: “I am not prepared to say no to an inward investment of �4m.”

At last night’s cabinet meeting at Redbridge Town Hall, campaigners presented a petition of 1,767 anxious users and residents. Eight representatives of different organisations also made emotive pleas to reject the proposals.

Council leader Cllr Keith Prince told protesters: “I feel that we do owe you an apology. It hasn’t been handled how I would like it to have been.”

Cllr Prince said that any groups that wanted to continue using the building in the evenings would be able to and pledged to do “everything possible” to find alternative facilities for others.

Labour MP for Ilford South, Mike Gapes, branded the closure a “huge blow” for the centre’s users, and has written to the Education Secretary Michael Gove on the subject.

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