Investing in community assets

The news this week that a community centre in Leith is to close for safety reasons will come as a devastating blow to the building’s users.

The Duncan Place Resource Centre is located next to Leith Primary School.

It is used by the school for after-school clubs, nursery, provision of the statutory two hours of PE each week and a host of other activities.

More than 140 students of Edinburgh College are taught there, as are numerous community education classes. Many of the groups cater for the most vulnerable in our society, including asylum seekers, those recovering from mental health problems and from substance misuse. They have all been given a few days to find alternative premises, before the centre shuts on Saturday, causing disruption.

Of course it is right that if a council building is not in a safe state then it should close to the public. We saw the tragic consequences of unsafe buildings this year at Liberton High School, and such a tragedy must never be allowed to happen again. And the council must offer every assistance to those groups in finding new accommodation and moving with the minimum of disruption.

But very serious questions must be asked about how this community hub was allowed to get into such a serious state in the first place.

We have seen to our cost what happens when buildings are not maintained. As my Green colleague Councillor Melanie Main has written in the Evening News before, the outstanding repairs and maintenance bill on our school estate is nearly £30 million, while improvements have been costed at more than £60m. And yet the council has allocated only £4.2m per year for maintenance and planned work – a glaring shortfall.

In December last year, a report was presented to education committee which categorised all 144 buildings in the school estate. Duncan Place Resource Centre was ranked bottom and was the only building in the worst category, “category D – bad”.

And yet the same report noted that Duncan Place was “excluded from the programme [of improvement works] at this stage to allow time for consideration of solutions for this area.” The committee did agree, however, “That establishments across the estate would be kept Wind and Water tight and Health and Safety issues are addressed.”

Why was Duncan Place excluded from these works? Were health and safety issues addressed, as agreed by committee? These are just some of the urgent questions I’ve put to the council. The community deserves answers. Above all this council must invest in repairing and maintaining our vital community assets, or more vulnerable groups will be left in turmoil as a result of closures.

This blog was first published in the Edinburgh Evening News on 4 September 2014