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New Eric Gray still ‘urgent’

Eric Gray Centre

SEVERAL councillors are arguing for a new Eric Gray care centre to be placed at the heart of a revamped SIC capital programme.

Last week social services committee chairman Cecil Smith apologised for the council’s poor communication after it emerged plans to build the replacement at Seafield had been abandoned.

The fall-out continued at Monday morning’s executive committee meeting as councillor Allan Wishart branded the council’s handling of that decision “embarrassing”.

Planning permission for a new Eric Gray centre was granted in August 2011. But spending constraints meant it was not included in a five-year capital programme backed by councillors in February.

Wishart now feels placing the project on the backburner was “a serious omission” and needs to be addressed “very urgently”.

Last month it emerged that negotiations are now taking place which could result in the Seafield site being used for a campsite instead.

That prompted Smith’s apology for the SIC’s failure to inform users, parents and staff.

The present Eric Gray building is not suitable for all clients – forcing some young people to stay on at the ASN department at Gressy Loan beyond school-leaving age.

Wishart pointed out that the number of users was expected to double by the end of the decade.

“I feel embarrassed about the way this has been handled,” he said. “There’s been a serious omission here and, whatever happens, regardless of the history, we have a duty to look at this and look at it very urgently.”

He urged other councillors to visit the centre to “see the conditions that the users and carers are experiencing there”.

Councillor Michael Stout said families and staff needed reassuring that the project would still eventually go ahead.

The Eric Gray centre caters for “probably the most deserving and needy people in our community”, councillor Jonathan Wills argued.

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s a far higher priority than continuing to pay for schools we cannot afford [and which should be] amalgamated for financial and educational reasons.”

But, while he sympathised with the centre’s users, councillor Alastair Cooper said councillors “have to be honest with folk”. “It’s going to take time,” he added.

Smith stressed that “there’s no service user going to be put on the street” as a result of the delays.

A review of all of the council’s adult services is now being carried out.

It will consider whether any existing SIC buildings could be suitable for an Eric Gray replacement.

Smith said its findings would be presented to councillors by the end of March.