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City community centres 'under threat' from council lease changes
COMMUNITY centres could have to shut after changes made to short-term leases by Oxford City Council, it is warned.
The Labour-run council is now only offering three-year leases on its buildings used by voluntary groups.
Centre bosses said the change will make it difficult to get grant cash for the 19 centres that occupy council-owned buildings.
Charities such as the Big Lottery Fund will only hand out cash to buildings with leases of five years or more.
Bill Baker, chairman of Oxford Federation of Community Associations, said: “It is ridiculous.
“If you go to any charity for money they will want to know you have long-term stability. The council has been told about this.”
Mr Baker is chairman of Donnington Community Association and said it had been chasing the council for a 25-year lease.
He said: “They keep telling us they have held ‘high-level’ talks, but we have heard nothing, they haven’t bothered to answer us.
“As a member of the Labour Party I am disgusted at the way the council has gone about this.”
Chris Bonfiglioli, community development director of Cutteslowe Community Centre in Wren Road questioned the “one-size-fits-all” approach.
He said: “From our point of view the longer the lease the better when it comes to fundraising.
“A lot of charities like the Lottery will ask for a long-term commitment and it can be difficult when you are working off a short-term lease to try to secure that kind of investment.
“Long-term leases will also be more beneficial to councils, I believe, as it is in their interest to get community groups tied down.
“My own view is that 15-year leases should be the norm.”
Lottery bosses demand five-year leases for grants up to £50,000 and 10 years for £50,000 to £250,000 grants. Grants of more than £250,000 are also available but these must have a 20-year lease.
Lib Dem group leader Jean Fooks said: “I do think the city is being short-sighted and not helping the associations do what they would like to do.”
The council has yet to respond. The changes are part of a £2m spending programme over the next five years.