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New proposals tabled for the Southlands Centre

A purpose built community building for the residents of East Middlesbrough has been proposed to replace the dilapidated Southlands Centre under new plans to be considered next week.

The move follows extensive efforts over two years to address the loss-making site’s lack of financial viability, including significant maintenance and repair costs – which run to nearly £2m - to the former secondary school building.

Under the proposals the Southlands would be closed and, subject to a further decision to redevelop the site, a brand new community centre built on the existing site or elsewhere in East Middlesbrough, following public consultation.

While full details are yet to be drawn up, the building is proposed to be a fit for purpose new build comprising, for example, a multi-purpose hall, office/meeting space, with kitchen and storage, and would be comparable to Community Hub facilities across Middlesbrough.

An independent condition report in 2015 identified that the current Southlands Centre has an essential repairs backlog of £600,000, with a further £1,335,000 worth of works needed to secure what is a very large building’s long-term future.

The centre made a loss of £122,000 in 2016/17 and is projected to make a further loss in 2017/18 of £210,000, while falling occupancy levels will require a taxpayer subsidy over the next ten years of up to £652,000.

The proposals will see all existing licensees running businesses from the centre offered alternative accommodation and given assistance to relocate. Facilities for community use will also be provided, on an interim or more permanent basis elsewhere, depending on individual requirements, until the new facility is open.

To facilitate the relocations a funding pot of £100,000 would be put aside to assist as and where it is needed.

Councillor Nicky Walker, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Member for Finance and Governance, said: “This proposal gives us the exciting opportunity to create a new community facility which will be fit for purpose, more economical to run and tailored to local needs.

“Genuine efforts have been made to achieve a viable long-term solution for Southlands, but despite this, overall the proposals still require substantial public investment in the building, which is not fit for purpose, and it would continue to run at an overall loss.

“As the economic environment has changed in recent years, we have sought wherever possible to retain community facilities through transfer of ownership, but that has not proved viable in this case.

“A considerable amount of work has been undertaken with both the licensees group and a proposed community operator, but when put together they would still result in a substantial ongoing drain on the public purse.

“Very careful consideration has been given to the overall community benefit of the current building and the impact of closure, as well as the opportunity to provide a new, fit for purpose building for the people of East Middlesbrough.

“While a major investment in the existing Southlands Centre – a large, loss making building - is hard to justify, the opportunity is there to use any receipt for the land to provide a new, more cost effective and better facility for the local community.

“This is in line with other recent decisions over investment in buildings which have involved considerations of economic and social regeneration, together with the level of income generation which helps to pay for local services.”

A report on the future of the Southlands Centre will be considered at the next meeting of the Executive Sub-Committee for Property on Friday, April 20.

If agreed, the closure will take place over a six-month period to facilitate the relocation of existing licensees and community groups.

A further report later this year will explore the future use of the site and the re-provision of community facilities.

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