Library auction is halted after public backlash
A former library has been given a reprieve amid controversial plans to sell the building instead of handing it over to a community trust.
Wigan council felt Atherton Community Trust would be unable to foot the outstanding £400k repair bill for Atherton Centre, which has been blighted by vandalism and water damage.
The trust’s business plan for a community asset transfer (CAT), which included a youth zone and veteran’s hub, was also criticised for having ‘insufficient’ detail.
But a report favouring the sale of the York Street building at auction will not go before cabinet members following public backlash.
The trust’s bid, submitted last October, was supported by community groups for veterans, the arts and young people, as well as from the MPs at the time, Chris Green and Jo Platt.
Norman Bradbury, chairman of the trust, has welcomed the move, saying: “This has only happened because of pressure being put on the council.
“We remain hopeful because more parties are now getting involved to support the cause, which gives us a better chance of achieving a CAT.”
Atherton Centre remains vacant after the council agreed in January 2016 to spend £1 million transferring the library into a new community hub at the town hall.
Last October, the community trust expressed an interest in obtaining a lease from the council through a CAT.
Since then, the building has fallen into further disrepair with youths removing slates from the roof, causing water leaks and allowing pigeons to get in.
The condition of the building was so poor that a public site visit was cancelled over safety concerns.
Coun James Paul Watson claimed that the building had been gifted to Atherton, and said any money should be kept within the community.
He said: “We’ve seen our population grow in Atherton by 25pc in the last 10 years and there’s going to be an extra 2,000 houses without any investment in infrastructure for the kids.
“Wigan has seen its antisocial behaviour reduce because of its youth zone – imagine what that could do for Artherton.
“Parts of Atherton are within the top 10 pc most deprived communities in England. It’s crying out for a youth zone.”
Coun Watson also disputed the report’s claims that there was no need for a second veteran’s hub in the borough.
The council has insisted on developing a ‘hub and spoke’ model, focusing on providing support from the Armed Forces HQ in Wigan and running smaller outreach programmes elsewhere.
“The transport links between this side of the borough and Wigan are not great,” said Coun Watson.
“People suffering with anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder are not going to want to travel to strange places. I think it’s very disrespectful.”
Five options had been on the table for Atherton Centre: commercial lease, CAT, sale, demolition or retain.
A Wigan council spokeswoman said: “In order to further consider the requests that have now been raised by the local community, we have withdrawn the report from the cabinet agenda.”
The cancelled report had previously said: “Despite the local community group putting in a lot of time and effort to prepare and submit a business plan for a CAT lease it is unfortunately not considered that an adequate financial plan has been provided.
“If the building does not have works undertaken to it in the near future, the risks around health and safety will continue to be of concern and this is very significant to pass on to a community group.
“It is therefore considered that the most appropriate way forward would be to dispose of the building at auction.”