Closure of Lancaster children’s centre is ‘social vandalism’

Caroline Jackson
Caroline Jackson

A Lancaster city councillor has described the closure of Firbank Children’s Centre on the Ridge estate as “a piece of social vandalism”.

Parents are also calling on the county council to reverse its decision to close the service, which they say provides a lifeline for families in crisis.

Firbank Children's Centre

Firbank Children's Centre

Green councillors Tim Hamilton-Cox and Caroline Jackson say that if the closure of Firbank goes ahead, Lancashire County Council will be failing in its duty to provide a children’s centre in a location for families in greatest need of support.

The county council decided to close Firbank, in Firbank Road, as part of its wide reaching buildings and property review. The review is the result of large scale cuts to the county council’s budget by central government. A spokesman said a service would still be provided at Lune Park Children’s Centre at Rylands and Appletree Children’s Centre at White Cross.

But mum Nicole, who lives in Ambleside Road, said: “Firbank has had a hugely positive influence on our family life.

I feel really worried for the vulnerable families in our area who’ll now have to trek across town to access support which will undoubtedly be stretched by increased demand.

“Personally I will really struggle to push my little one in the pram and encourage my three-year-old to walk all the way to and from Lune Park on a nice day in summer let alone a rainy winter day.”

Lucy Ellis is a parent who uses Firbank but is also chair of Lancaster Federated Children’s Centres Advisory Board. She said: “I am scared for the future of the families who rely on services in their local area.

“Expecting a family to take two buses or walk down unsafe pedestrian routes through the busy one way system or battle through traffic to get their child to nursery or a creche to access adult education, benefit advice, housing advice, parenting support, weaning advice or support for their child and family around raising a child with additional needs to another centre where services and rooms are stretched to capacity already is just wrong.”

Coun Jackson said: “We acknowledge the unprecedented squeeze on council budgets caused by government funding cuts but this is disastrous short-term thinking – a piece of social vandalism. The county’s leader said in May that the property strategy was about cutting expensive buildings not reducing services. Firbank’s closure is transparently a service cut. Coun Jenny Mein and her Labour colleagues really have to re-think the decision.”

County Coun David Borrow, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “In February 2016 the County Council agreed to reshape the services for children and young people to deliver the savings required to meet government budget cuts.

“The most vulnerable children and families will continue to be supported but from fewer centres.

“Many families will get support through outreach work or from group sessions in other community buildings.

“Families on the Ridge will still be helped.

“We wish we did not have to make these changes but Tory cuts to our budget make them inevitable.

“We still need to find further savings of £150million - more tough decisions ahead.”

Meanwhile Green party county councillor for Lancaster Gina Dowding has joined othercouncillors from across Lancashire in ‘calling in’ the building closures programme for review by the scrutiny committee today, Thursday September 22, at County Hall.