Rethink on community centre plans amid shortage of funds

PLANS to build a new community centre in Sharrow are being reconsidered by Sheffield Council owing to a lack of funds in the "challenging financial climate".

Proposals are instead being drawn up to improve community facilities at Highfield Library and the Old Junior School.

A public consultation is now set to be launched, in which people will be asked whether they would back the new scheme, or would prefer to wait for the financial climate to improve so that the original "community hub" project in Sharrow Lane can go ahead.

Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, Sheffield Council's cabinet member for communities, said: "The community has led on some notable successes in improving facilities in Sharrow, for example the award-winning new school and the regenerated Mount Pleasant Park.

"We had a great response to the consultation we carried out through the Community Assembly last year, but at the moment the finances don't stack up due to the downturn in land value.

"We are now looking to hold a ballot with local people so that they can decide for themselves if they want to go for this different approach or wait to deliver the full scheme when market conditions improve.

"Making improvements locally remains our priority, but we owe it to local people and organisations to be clear about what we can achieve in a challenging financial climate.

"We want to ask people what they think about investing in the Old Junior School to provide a base for the services and community space they want, and also to improve Highfield Library to build on its popularity.

"We know that many local people value these spaces. This is about making better use of what we already have so we have a firm foundation to build on in the future.

"We would also look at finding a better future for local buildings which means protecting those with heritage value, reducing the number of empty buildings and working creatively with local people to make local buildings and services more sustainable."

At a cabinet committee meeting next Wednesday, councillors are set to agree going ahead with a public consultation. That exercise, including a ballot, would be carried out in January through the Central Community Assembly.

Coun Mohammed added: "The alternative is to stick with the idea of a new-build community hub, but this would mean putting plans on ice until the financial climate improves.

"We don't know when this would be, and in the meantime we would not be in a position to make any significant investment in Highfield Library or the Old Junior School.

"The old way of doing things would see this kind of tricky decision taken in the Town Hall with little influence from local residents. However, we believe that local residents know best and that's why it is them that will decide how this important scheme for their area will go forward."

In the report set to go before Wednesday's cabinet meeting, council officers say that the original community hub scheme is simply "not viable" in the face of the recession and huge Government spending cuts.

The report says: "The idea of a large purpose-built community hub allowing for the co-location of local services on Sharrow Lane has proved popular with many local residents and partners.

"However, people had mixed views on how this should be delivered and reservations were expressed about elements of this idea. It is clear that a development of this scale is not possible in the current financial climate.

"The council is under significant financial pressure and there is nothing to indicate that this will change in the near future.

"We are no longer in a position to rely on funding from the sale of council-owned assets for local improvements, which means a reduction in available investment at this time."