Centre is to close as it is not viable.
Byline: JAMES CAIN Local democracy reporter firstname.lastname@example.org @JimmyMCain
THE Southlands Centre will close within six months after a committee agreed that keeping the centre open was not viable.
Years of uncertainty ended for businesses and community groups based at the Ormesby Road centre after a meeting of Middlesbrough Council's executive sub-committee for property voted unanimously to close the centre.
But members stressed the decision also committed the council to engage with the community "in order to ascertain the requirements for a fit-for-purpose community facility that will serve the needs of the area".
Acknowledging the strong feelings regarding the future of the centre, Cllr Charlie Rooney opened the meeting saying: "This is a business meeting of the council. We will not tolerate unfounded allegations or insults, particularly to officers."
James Bromiley, the council's director of finance and governance, presented the report "Southlands Centre - Future Options" to the committee emphasising that the viability of the centre was "key".
He presented a timeline of events beginning with the closure of leisure facilities at the centre in January 2016 to the present day, highlighting the work carried out by officers to look into all possible options for the centre. He acknowledged that there had been a period of uncertainty for businesses based at the Southlands, but stressed that this was so that the council could carry out the work to look at all options.
He said the council had looked at options to help move businesses.
He added renovation costings had been carried out by an independent chartered surveyor and said options regarding a new community facility would be developed if the Southlands Centre were to close.
Brian Hubbard, the independent councillor for Park End and Beckfield, thanked Cllrs Nicky Walker and Mick Thompson for speaking with business owners at the Southland Centre on Thursday.
But he said he believed the report presented to the committee had "numerous failings". He said the 28 businesses currently based at the centre put the occupancy rate at 36% - less than half the 75% occupancy rate the council says is needed to make the centre viable.
"Officers say it would take eight years to reach that level," said Cllr Hubbard. "That cannot be accepted by you today. A more realistic figure would be 12-18 months."
He added: "The businesses have proved they are resilient. For the last three years they have had the spectre of closure hanging over them - and they're still here."
Cllr Jon Rathmell said his concern was that correct processes hadn't been followed: "We believe there are failings in the reports," he said. "We need to be moving away from that - be transparent."
Cllr Nicky Walker, the councillor for Hemlington Ward, said many activities taking place at the Southlands Centre could be moved easily. Cllr Mick Thompson, Labour councillor for Berwick Hills and Pallister, said: "This decision includes a decision to provide a community building."
Cllr Charlie Rooney said all members of the committee had read the report and moved to a vote.
The recommendations to close the Southlands Centre were passed unanimously.