A COUNCIL meeting was abandoned when a member of the public refused to stop questioning a senior councillor over the continued closure of a day centre.
It was revealed at the meeting a decision that could reopen the Tudor Centre, in Abergavenny could be taken in September.
The centre has been closed since the start of the first Covid lockdown in March 2020, and last November Monmouthshire council’s cabinet said it wanted to sell the site so it could be used for social housing, prompting a backlash from service users and families.
But the county council will also consider at least two other alternative buildings in Abergavenny as a potential support base for adults with learning disabilities where they could also meet with others. It is also proposed to open a base in Monmouth, with three buildings also shortlisted in the town.
However at a council scrutiny committee Cllr Ian Chandler, who became the cabinet member responsible for social care in May, was challenged over why a decision wasn’t being made sooner and why the council is also considering Abergavenny Community Centre and the Melville Theatre rather than simply re-opening the Tudor Centre.
Cllr Chandler told the meeting the cabinet wants to “move at pace” and said a workshop would be held in August with service users and families to help determine which building in Abergavenny, and which of the Bridges Centre, the Monnow Vale Health and Social Care facility and Overmonnow Family Learning Centre in Monmouth, should be taken forward and presented as “costed options” to the cabinet.
The Llantilio Crossenny councillor said: “Our ambition is to make that decision in September”.
But at that point he was challenged by campaigner Owen B Lewis who said: “That is not moving at pace. You could open the Tudor Centre sooner than September, you are not taking it seriously.”
Mr Lewis, who had earlier been allowed to address the meeting at County Hall in Usk as one of 13 public speakers, said the other Abergavenny buildings, which Cllr Chandler described as “shortlisted”, have been shown not to be suitable on access grounds and called for him to re-open the Tudor Centre.
However this was after committee chairman Cllr John Crook had asked him to remain quiet as the meeting was no longer open to contributions from the public, and when Mr Lewis asked if he could speak he was told he couldn’t – but continued questioning Cllr Chandler. Another member of the public also began to speak.
At that point council policy chief Matthew Gatehouse said he was bringing the Tuesday, July 18, meeting – that had just entered its third hour – to a close and ordered the live internet stream to be switched off.
Green Party member Cllr Chandler, who was appointed to the Labour cabinet in May, had earlier told the meeting he would be recommending the cabinet accepts “in full” the recommendations of the independent review of the My Day My Life support service for adults with learning disabilities in north and central Monmouthshire.
When the review reported in April it found adults with learning disabilities should have use of a building as a base and that the service, launched in 2014, with the intention of offering one to one support in the community, had deteriorated. As a result the council’s social services department has proposed continuing to support with people on a one to one basis, as well as part of group activities, and establishing service bases in Abergavenny and Monmouth.
The council had ordered the review in autumn last year and at the same time the previous cabinet member for social care, Tudor Thomas, approved the permanent closure of the Tudor Centre and the plan to sell the site for social housing, saying the building was no longer suitable and a day centre provision was “out of date”.
That led to a community campaign to re-open the centre that highlighted a lack of provision for people with disabilities. The sale of the centre was put on hold in December, and in January council leader Mary Ann Brocklesby apologised for the way the decision had been made without consultation.
At Tuesday’s meeting Llanelly Hill independent councillor Simon Howarth said he, and others shared, concerns at the other buildings being put forward in Abergavenny and said: “We did visit some buildings and were told Tudor Street is not fit for purpose.
“Let me tell you, that building is alive and kicking it just needs some fresh air. With a bit of TLC Tudor Street could be open this weekend.”
The council cabinet is due to consider the recommendation it accepts the independent report in full when it meets on Wednesday, July 26, and comments made by the scrutiny committee.
Cllr Chandler said the cabinet will also be asked to agree the service should have bases in both Abergavenny and Monmouth but isn’t being asked which buildings those should be until further work with service users and families has been completed.
A review of support for adults with learning disabilities in the south of Monmouthshire, currently provided by charity Mencap Chepstow, is due to take place later this year.