“The Civic Centre is dead in the water.” That was the dramatic claim this week about Otley Town Council’s planned move to a bigger base in the town centre.
Labour says the move to Orchard Gate, along with a shake-up that will see the council's offices turned into a fully accessible information centre, will allow the body to play a much more active role.
But Liberal Democrat councillors have slammed the idea as a “vanity project” that will cost taxpayers. Council leader Councillor John Eveleigh (Lab, Ashfield) told the policy and resources committee the changes would usher in an “exciting new era” where Otley could end up taking on services, including running the town’s markets.
Councillor Jim Spencer (Lib Dem, West Chevin), accused Labour of trying to create a “smokescreen”.
He said: “This move is a declaration that the Civic Centre is dead in the water and that the council will never return to it.
“Along with the toilets (the council recently approved a £78,000 revamp of Orchard Gate toilets) this amount of money every year means there’s no possibility of any going to the Civic Centre – it’s dead.”
Coun Spencer acknowledged the merits of having powers devolved from Leeds and of having an information centre – and so abstained in the vote.
Town and ward Councillor Sandy Lay (Lib Dem, Danefield) attacked the “clearly politicised, very inflammatory” lang-uage of the document outlining the changes and predicted high costs. He said: “It’s clear this information centre, in principle, is a good idea but it will cost this council at least £50,000 per annum. This is the biggest vanity project in 40 years.”
Councillor Kevin Cooney (Lab, West Chevin) and others pointed out that the council’s current premises at Bay Horse Court, which are not wheelchair-accessible, were simply “not fit for purpose”.
Councillor Nigel Francis (Ind, Danefield) said: “If we keep the current offices we’ll have to limit it to one or two people coming in at a time. And let’s not bother with people with disabilities, because they can’t get in!
“We should be setting an example and being a town council that leads from the front. If the precept for next year comes back and a ten per cent increase is proposed I’ll oppose that, but we’ve got to look ahead.”
Coun Eveleigh dismissed any idea that the reorganisation signalled an end to efforts to get the Civic Centre refurbished.