Sunday, 10 February 2013

What's a Few percent between Friends?

once the Office
Council meets next week to decide on the fate of the West Park Centre. Are they being given accurate information on which to base their decisions? We from the West Park Campaign Group think not. We took a look at the Report [Agenda details on public web site] and asked for comments. 

Here's one:
List of users (Appendix 2). Notable omissions, unless we've missed something, include GRTAS [Travellers' Education](second biggest user after ArtForms, several offices plus storage - just incredible that these aren't even included on the list), Leeds NUT (office, kitchen and meeting room I think), Victim Support (small room permanently available), PE & Sport team (office and large storage area) and the very large areas that were still being used as storage for Northern Ballet (and Opera North I think?). Also Leeds Talking Newspaper wasn't a once-weekly use - they had a little room permanently set up and they tell us they were paying ~£so much per month for the privilege. Not to mention the many internal LCC bookings for training and meetings!

- The "40% unused" bit is meaningless and to be robustly challenged. Do they mean 40% of the rooms? 40% of the space? Tenants / tenants+regular bookings / tenants+regular bookings+ad hoc usage? Where are they getting these figures from? Regardless, it is simply not a measure of demand - from circa 2010 onwards, even before the mothballing, WPC was unable to take on any new long-term tenants because of the uncertainty surrounding the building's future - for the last two or three years there has been no indication of whether the building would still be there 6 months into the future, so it was impossible to guarantee people space on a long-term basis. We think people were turned away for this reason. And then, yes, once the enforced mothballing came along usage yet more restricted - eg last year, Elemental Kickboxing Academy wanted to move from the small room they were using to the second gym but couldn't because the gym was officially sealed off for business rates purposes. They were most unhappy about this, and eventually took the issue to their MP (Rachel Reeves). Admittedly one booking does not a financially viable space make, but it illustrates the problem. In summary, if usage was down post 2009 it was because the centre was strangulated by a mixture of external inaction and external meddling.

- The above also gives the lie to the statement later on in the report that retaining the whole building is not recommended because "A large proportion of the building has not been in use for sometime." (a) it's arguably not a large proportion, and (b) remind us whose fault that is again?

- As the building is left to stand empty, the costs of bringing it back into use are creeping up. Eg there is already a roof leak above one of the first-floor meeting rooms which has damaged the flooring and will eventually affect the room directly below. Similarly, leaving the water system idle in freezing conditions is not going to be good for the pipes. Without the excellent long-serving caretaking staff WP had to head these things off, the place is going to deteriorate rapidly without intervention.

- We need proper, tendered costings for the work that needs (emphasise NEEDS) to be done. The cost of sorting the electrics has swelled from £200k to £600k to £900k if the reports are to be believed. There is no proper substantiation to this, it's just a series of fag-packet estimates as far as I can tell, and yet it gets into print and it's taken as gospel. And through all this there's been no mention of the fact that parts of the building (middle of the travellers/ballet block I believe) have been rewired within the past 10 years following fire damage, and are therefore perfectly decent!
The last detailed condition survey of the building was in 2004. The total estimated cost (and it never reached the point of actually getting quotes) of doing everything identified at that point was around £2m, and this is the figure which has been bandied about since. What it fails to take into account is that not all of the work was high priority (eg re-glazing doors with safety glass), and some of it has actually been done in the meantime - eg the aforementioned partial replacement of electrics, new boiler last year, roof repairs etc. If they're seriously looking into future options for the building, step one is to start from scratch with the costings. For some reason Asset Management appears reluctant to do this!

2.10 The closure displaced a number of organisations and clearly caused disruption and inconvenience to a large number of existing users. However, work undertaken by City Development and Children’s Services has led to the temporary relocation of users. Artforms offices have been relocated to Merrion House with music service delivery taking place at City of Leeds School. The majority of external users have relocated to alternative venues, mainly in North West Leeds, that are suitable in the long term." Good grief, where to start! I wonder what the Blahs (for example) think of this bold statement. Got to admire their chutzpah in saying City Development (who did nothing for years then booted us out at a day's notice) have helped sort all this out. In fact, most of us were left to sink or swim, and if people have found alternative accommodation it's been largely off their own bat. Love the way they just shrugs off the fact that ArtForms went from being a totally integrated service, with all the benefits that implies, to having offices in the city centre, service delivery in LS6 (plus A-level Music Tech in borrowed facilities at Allerton Grange CLC) and the entire musical instrument hire stock in Holbeck! If services have survived, it's despite NC's input, not because of it.

- "4.6 [...] it is evident that, given the poor condition of the West Park Centre, doing nothing is not an option" Hmm... cheap shot maybe but I'm sure sure I've heard that before somewhere!

- Where are the 2009 condition report and the Arup report that are supposed to be attached to the cover report?

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