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FOURTEEN libraries, three leisure centres and the Pacific Road arts venue are to be closed in a massive cost-cutting exercise proposed by Wirral Council.
A further twenty council properties including the former Birkenhead town hall in Hamilton Square, Leasowe Recreation Centre and a string of council-funded community centres and village halls across the borough also face being transferred to “community management” - where staff and funding are withdrawn to be replaced with volunteers and fundraisers.
The council admits that the drastic changes “will have significant implications for staff affected”, and that many of the buildings - like Birkenhead Library - face being mothballed or demolished.
Council leader Steve Foulkes said: “Doing nothing was never an option. If we leave things as they are we will be left with crumbling buildings, mounting repair costs and escalating levels of council tax.”
The borough hopes to make money from selling off “prime waterfront” sites like the one currently home to Guinea Gap Recreation Centre in Seacombe, which is included in the closures.
The moves are all part of the council’s wide-ranging review of its assets.
It is aiming to make savings by re-examining the number of buildings under its control, many of which were inherited when the council was formed in 1974 from the five former Wirral district councils.
A meeting of the council’s ruling “cabinet” committee this Thursday evening is being asked to approve the radical plans, which it is estimated could save the authority £3.7m a year.
To offset the closures - which the council wants to start as early as March next year - it instead intends to invest £20m over a four-year period to provide “better but fewer” buildings for taxpayers’ use.
These include five either new or improved “multi-purpose complexes” - some incorporating One Stop Shops and health centres - in Bebington, Birkenhead, Liscard, Moreton and West Kirby, and with seven other, smaller centres elsewhere in Wirral.
Both Birkenhead and Wallasey Central Libaries will be closed, but will be rehoused in the new mutli-purpose complexes to be built in their respective towns. Better opening hours, online bookings and free Wi-Fi are being mooted.
But the twelve libraries listed for complete closure are those in Hoylake, Pensby, Upton, Irby, Bromborough, Higher Bebington, New Ferry, Seacombe, Wallasey Village, Prenton, Ridgeway and Beechwood.
Woodchurch Leisure Centre, Grange Road West Sports Centre and Guinea Gap will all close, as will the Pacific Road Arts Centre, whose facilities will be transferred to the newly-refurbished Floral Pavilion in New Brighton, due to open again next month.
Council leader Steve Foulkes added: “It is essential that we carry out a comprehensive review of all the council’s built assets to ensure they are fit for the 21st Century and beyond.
“By investing £20million to provide better but fewer buildings, Wirral residents will be able to enjoy high-quality and efficient modern facilities while keeping council tax at an acceptable level.
“The residents of Wirral deserve to access excellent services from buildings that are modern and appropriate, without taxpayers having to pay for the burden of old, energy inefficient buildings that are no longer fit for purpose.
“Change is never easy and we understand that people can become attached to the buildings that they use and which are familiar to them.
“These proposals are rightly radical and comprehensive and will have implications for residents across the borough, not to mention many of our own staff.
“Through consultation and communication with all those affected, we hope to minimise any negative impact of these proposals and move towards the goal of sustainable, modern, energy efficient buildings which will also contribute to the regeneration of our poorest areas.”
The plans also include a score of buildings being transferred from being council-run to “community management” schemes.
They are community centres in Hoylake, Pensby, Kylemore, Leasowe (both Recreation and Community), Moreton, Grosvenor Ballroom, Delamere, Beechwood, Gautby Road, Livingstone Street, Noctorum, West Kirby’s Westbourne Hall, Thingwall’s Ivy Farm, New Brighton’s Vale House, New Ferry Village Hall, Heswall’s Alexander Hall and Bebington’s Victoria Hall.
The Wirral Museum - the former Birkenhead town hall in Hamilton Square - and Wirral Transport Museum, in the Pacific Road complex, are also being explored for “alternative uses” such as being taken over by trusts or even redevelopment.
Tory group leader Cllr Jeff Green said: “Before the local elections, we warned of the existence of this report. And in spite of losing seats, the Labour administration’s plans, propped up by the Liberal Democrats, have been exposed just before Christmas.
“We have to ask what the administration thinks they are there for. Providing basic public services such as libraries, leisure centres and community centres should be a priority yet these services seem to now be classed as an optional extra that Wirral no longer needs.
“If the council doesn’t do libraries, community centres or lollipop ladies, what does it do? “There will be many people who will read of these plans in disbelief - unable to understand how the council got themselves into this mess, and who can blame them?
“Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been secretive and deceitful and, as we saw with the school crossing patrols, there has been absolutely no consultation with the people who use these vital services.
“Wirral needs change. These cuts show how out of touch this council administration has become and the people of Wirral are going to pay a high price for the Labour and Liberal Democrat deal.”
The plans go before council cabinet on Thursday evening. If approved, as likely, there will then be a period of public consultation.