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Opposition to closure of Oxenwood & Braeside outdoor education centres continues

Sylvia Card, Chair of the Devizes constituency Labour Party, questioned the Marlborough Area Board at the meeting on Tuesday (May 15) about the closure of Wiltshire Council's two outdoor education centres.

Before the meeting had got fully under way, she asked:  “Why is Braeside and Oxenwood not on the agenda and hasn’t been on any agenda? Why is Wiltshire County Council not consulting us on the closure of these centres? When is Marlborough Town Council going to discuss this issue? There is no forum to discuss this.”

In response Councillor James Sheppard, Chair of the Area Board, said the item was on the agenda - in the form of a question from the public. However, it was not mentioned on the published agenda.

Things got a bit tense and loud.  Councillor Sheppard then read a prepared statement about future Wiltshire Council meetings on the topic and asked Councillor Richard Clewer, a Wiltshire Council cabinet member who was at the meeting for a separate agenda item, to give an update on the situation. 

Councillor Clewer said there have been six expressions of interest from groups who would like to take over the centres. This, he said, is the 'council’s preferred option'. He told the meeting that the council 'do not have the capital to invest in the centres when it’s not a statutory requirement' and that the centres, while they were viable thirty years ago, are 'uncompetitive and need upgrading'.  He said that commercial centres like the one on the Isle of Wight offered more appropriate courses.

The closure of the centres will be discussed at the Wiltshire Council meeting at 10.30 am on Tuesday May 22. Lucy Gomes’s petition with 15,823 signatures will be presented to the meeting.  It is of a sufficient size to trigger a debate of the full council. 

There are three possible outcomes to this debate: the council can decide to take the action the petition requests, not to take the action or to commission further investigation.

James Sheppard announced that the Area Board was not the correct forum for discussing the issue. Sylvia Card replied, “This is a community forum and the community are concerned about it. This meeting is a complete sham.”  She and a colleague then left the meeting.

A full Cabinet Meeting of Wiltshire Council will take place on June 12 to discuss the viability of the six expressions of interest to take over the centres.

Later in the meeting, Alan Rankin (Chair of Devizes constituency LibDems) raised the value to health and wellbeing of non-statutory local authority services like open spaces.  A government report recently estimated that public parks bring mental and physical health benefits saving £950million a year in health costs.

With this in mind, he said that with Wiltshire Council's emphasis on health and wellbeing, the closure of outdoor education centres may need to be reviewed. 

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