Woodbridge Youth Centre – saved from the ‘Dragon’s Den’

As you know I have been very anxious about an unconfirmed threat of development to the Woodbridge Youth Centre premises for a couple of years.

It turned out that despite the nay-sayers, this threat was genuine. I had wondered why officers had decided – in secret – not to process the licence for our local youth club, Just 42.  (This documented decision was not disclosed by officers.)  Just 42 had to have a licence to occupy the premises. Not renewing the licence would presumably have made it possible to give Just 42 speedy notice to quit!

This is a disgracefully disrespectful attitude to take to the young people of Woodbridge – and indeed to anyone who takes their concerns seriously.  These officers are our public servants. They are paid to work for the public good. They should be open and honest with councillors and with the public who have elected them. We may not be in Kansas, Toto but we’re certainly not in the Dragon’s Den either.

The culture of secrecy also meant that plans and proposals were being discussed for the redevelopment of the Woodbridge Youth Centre site. These had progressed to detailed plans for the development in question (I have copies) without any reference to the occupants, the users, the elected councillors of Woodbridge-  at all levels, or the people of Woodbridge as a whole.

Having discovered this information by a lot of detective work (and a lucky break when an email accidentally came to me with a string of prior emails attached to it, exposing the whole secret decision-making forum and process) I took my concerns to the most senior officer at Suffolk County Council – Chief Executive Deborah Cadman, who investigated the matter. She assures me that officers will never in the future make decisions without involving local elected representatives to the full. This means, I hope, that they will not behave with such disrespectful secrecy, arrogance, and assumed autonomy from the needs and requirements of the local communities they are supposed to serve.

We have been told that Woodbridge Youth Centre is now safe and that any discussion about its long-term future will involve all stakeholders, which jolly well includes our elected councillors. (My Woodbridge locality officer – in collaboration with SCC’s Rachael Rowe  – arranged the first stakeholders meeting last week – and I was delighted to see both Town and District council represented.)

I am very pleased to have it confirmed that my anxiety was not misplaced and that all the effort I have expended on this issue has been rewarded. The outcome will hopefully be protection – not only for the future of Woodbridge Youth Centre and the young people of Woodbridge – but also for other community facilities across Suffolk faced with similar threats!

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