New hope for campaigners fighting for Norwich community centre

Former Noriwch North MP Ian Gibson at a recent public meeting about the future of the Silver Rooms.

Former Noriwch North MP Ian Gibson at a recent public meeting about the future of the Silver Rooms. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Archant 2013

Campaigners fighting to turn a former Norwich day centre into a community centre have been handed a major boost in their battle – after a victory over Norfolk County Council.

An attempt by the county council to get the Silver Rooms removed from a Norwich City Council list of community assets has failed, buying campaigners precious time to raise the thousands of pounds needed to buy the building.

And former Norwich North MP Ian Gibson, who has been among those spearheading the attempt to snap up the Silver Road building so it can be used by the community, said he was confident that money would be raised.

Dr Gibson said: 'I think it can work. We have put in for grants and we have had lots of local people saying that once we have bought it they will put money into it to help us get it decorated.'

Norfolk County Council has been looking to sell the Silver Rooms, in Silver Road in the north of the city, following a major shake-up in the way social care is provided.

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It had been used as a day centre for the elderly, but the county council, the building's owners, is no longer directly providing care in that way.

It has been looking to sell the centre, saying it is in the taxpayers' interest to sell it on the open market.

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The council initially said, after talks with the Friends of the Silver Rooms, that the group could buy it for either £68,000 with a clawback clause or for £80,000.

But, as the county council grew concerned the group would not be able to raise the money it wanted, the authority decided it would be put up for auction.

However, campaigners, in January, used the Localism Act to get the Silver Rooms listed by Norwich City Council as an asset of community value, delaying the auction.

The county council had appealed against the city council's decision. And last week, Dr Gibson, on behalf of the campaigners, and representatives from Norfolk County Council, presented their cases at City Hall.

The city council's deputy chief executive, Jerry Massey, decided to keep the Silver Rooms on the community asset list, which means any auction is deferred for six months.

Dr Gibson said: 'The county council lawyer's argument was that we would not get the money and would never make it within five years and I said it was up to us to find it.

'Do they want to sell it for flats or do they want it to be used by the community? I think the line which won it was when I asked the county council lawyer what the county council are doing for the community and there was no evidence that they were doing anything.'

Dr Gibson said the campaigners were getting advice from Locality, the nationwide network of development trusts, community enterprises, settlements and social action centres and had applied for grants from Awards For All.

He added the group was also planning a public meeting to consider the creation of a co-operative so the community could take ownership of the building.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said the city council's decision meant it would be six months before the county council could look to sell the building.

He added: 'The county council's view is that community groups have already had a considerable period of time to raise funds to buy the property, and that the public interest is now best served by swift disposal of the property so the money raised is available for other purposes.'

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