Councillor Bernie O'Neill
Decision maker: Full Council
Decision status: For Determination
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
Cllr O’Neill proposed and Cllr Morgan seconded the motion at the agenda.
Cllr O’Neill realised that it was a little late in the process and thanked the leader for taking the urgent question at the last Full Council meeting. The decision to close the Wilderness Centre reminded him of the same fate that had befallen Cowley Manor 30 years previously, when a respected, useful centre was sold off. He found the decision incredible, given its success in attracting more than 300,000 young people. He quoted from a letter from the local MP Mark Harper to County Councillor Windsor Clive, concerning a consultant’s view that the centre was unviable. The Labour Group had not had enough county council members to call in the decision. The Leader of Gloucestershire County Council had visited the centre and commented that it would need significant improvement to be accessible to the disabled. However in August 2010 the centre did have disabled access and facilities. The centre was close to being self reliant, currently raising 70 per cent of running costs in revenues. School and other organisations in the county and elsewhere were still keen to use the centre and interested parties were hoping to establish an educational trust. He mentioned South Cerney watersports centre as an example of a successful, financially viable venture, which was paying a peppercorn rent to the county, adding that the same could be done for the Wilderness Centre. He pointed out that if the centre were sold off, so would its accompanying 100 acres of forest. He finished by informing members that the county had written to the district and all parish councils, inviting expressions of interest in properties.
He asked if the consultants used in writing recommendations to the county council cabinet were the same ones being used to manage the possible sale.
Cllr Robinson said that he believed the motion to be reasonable, although possibly too late. He could not answer the question, as he was not the accountable county councillor in this matter. He acknowledged that the centre provided an excellent service, albeit at a substantial cost and he was concerned that the county taxpayers were funding a service provided for people elsewhere in the country. He believed that the county council should set as a high priority services to the children within the county. The county council had listened to the representations, but the buildings were old an in need of repair and the decision had been made. However he was happy to support the motion, while recognising that most of the points it contained had been addressed.
Cllr Gardiner said that he had many years experience of the Wilderness Centre. He hoped that the conservative members would recognise the large degree of localism contained in the motion and would join him in supporting it.
Cllr Lawton too had been associated with the centre, as an archery instructor. He was in favour of local people helping themselves and supported the motion.
That this council urges the County Council to seriously consider the request of the Friends of the Wilderness and Plump Hill Environmental Studies Centre, Mitcheldean, to support them in their attempt to find alternative funding and produce a more viable business plan for the running of this centre, so that they can be independent of the County Council. This would be very much along the same lines as the management of the South Cerney Outdoor Education Centre, which will be run by a partnership. The Wilderness and Plump Hill Environmental Studies Centre is regarded very highly nationally and has been visited by 300,000 children over the past 43 years, and it would be a tremendous loss were it sold to the highest bidder.
Voting was as follows.
For (40) – Norman Stephens, Roger Yeates, Jim Connell, Gethyn Davies, Brian Jones, Brian Edwards, James Bevan, Judy Davis, Frankie Evans, Carole Allaway Martin, Marrilyn Smart, Len Lawton, Peter Ede, Arthur Thomas, Julia Gooch, Ian Whitburn, Dave East, Philip Burford, Clive Elsmore, Graham Morgan, Max Coborn, Frank Baynham, Paul McMahon, David Thomson, Bill Evans, Bernie O’Neill, Don Pugh, Bruce Hogan, Val Hobman, Lynn Sterry, Di Martin, Jackie Fraser, Helen Stewart, Terry Glastonbury, Terry Hale, Diana Edwards, Martin Quaile, Patrick Molyneux, Brian Robinson, Jane Horne
Publication date: 19/08/2011
Date of decision: 20/07/2011
Decided at meeting: 20/07/2011 - Full Council