EWCA contacted each of the four Epsom West Division candidates in the upcoming 6th May SCC elections, to ask their views on the Wells Centre and the future of the Karibu children’s home.
Response from Steve Gee Liberal Democrat candidate in Epsom West
The background and history of the closure of the Wells Centre is a well-documented tragedy for the local area.
As Liberal Democrats we have been consistent in our opposition to the decision taken by the Residents Association in 2015 to close the Centre and redevelop the site. For a party that claims to represent the residents on a non-political basis and look after their interests the RA have failed in their basic duties.
The decision to close the centre was taken when Neil Dallen (the RA party candidate) chaired the Strategy and Resources committee for Epsom and Ewell Council. So he must take personal responsibility for the decision.
Since then, many groups have fought the closure and tried to support local residents in their fight to come up with a viable sustainable plan for the Centre as a community hub. At the recent Strategy and Resources meeting Councillor David Gulland (Liberal Democrats) proposed a motion to include the community’s business plan for the site as one of the options. This was defeated by the RA majority who seem determined to ignore all proposals for saving the Wells Centre. David has also provided informal assistance on creating a business plan, based on his experience with the Horton Project.
The post lockdown COVID world more than ever requires communities to have good local hubs to support them.
However, it must be noted that whoever gets elected as your County Councillor will be able to support you (and you have my commitment to do that), but the County Council has no responsibility for the Wells Centre.
Further, whatever the commitment of the current Conservative Councillor Bernie Muir, she has never disassociated herself from any of the Tory party policies that has influenced these decisions, including the cuts to Local Authority funding and the unrealistic housing targets. What has she been saying about the wasted money at the County Council that could have funded local services cut by the Conservative administration?
The Conservative controlled Surrey County Council intend to “rationalise” the provision of childrens’ homes and care across the County providing one new facility in Epsom and one in Walton on Thames. This means 2 existing sites including the Karibu Centre on The Wells will be closed.
I do have concerns on the quality and the amount of new space that is created but this is in principle a reasonable decision – the Karibu is old, too large and costs too much money to run. The County Council will then raise money by selling the 2 sites no longer needed. We wish this wasn’t necessary but Tory cuts to Local Authority funding mean that it is inevitable.
I therefore support this decision in principle, as it will provide much needed housing. The challenge will then be to ensure that the housing developed is in keeping with the area, that we don’t lose valuable trees and retain the existing building as some part of the scheme – I will fight for these provisions including ensuring there is a good amount of affordable housing provided within the scheme.
As Liberal Democrats we believe in listening to local people and finding practical solutions to complex problems. I think that the future of the whole area, including the Wells Centre and Karibu, needs to be considered holistically – with the views of the residents at the forefront – to create a viable future for a community centre and appropriate levels of new housing. This could be enforced through the planning system with planning gains enforced on developers to support the local community.
To find out more about EWCA and our campaign to reopen The Wells Centre, please send us an email or join our email list.