Call to halt Norwich day centre axe plan

Shaun LowthorpeThe battle to save two Norwich day centres has stepped up a gear after city council chiefs called for the controversial closure plans to be shelved until after a council shake-up gives them control of all services.Shaun Lowthorpe

The battle to save two Norwich day centres has stepped up a gear after city council chiefs called for the controversial closure plans to be shelved until after a council shake-up gives them control of all services.

Norfolk County Council is consulting on whether to shut the county council-run Silver Rooms and Essex Rooms in the city as part of a changes in care to put the focus on facilities for people with dementia.

Both need an upgrade totalling �73,000 to bring them up to standard, and the county council is proposing the cash would be better spent offering alternative provision.

But the plans have sparked uproar among users of the centres, who see them as a vital resource for the city's senior citizens, offering up to 300 weekly places and a chance to take part in a range of activities.

Now the city council is preparing to issue a formal hands-off plea to the county and leave any changes to the new Norwich unitary council to make a decision, following a government ruling last week to create the new authority.

Last week's decision means that County Hall's running of services such as social care for adults in the city could be numbered and a report to the city's executive committee is calling for the day centre decision to be put on hold.

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Brenda Arthur, executive member for adult services and housing, called for County Hall to leave well alone and said the city would like to take the time to look again at provision.

Community facilities such as schools could even be used as possible day centre resource - on the lines of a successful project currently being run out of City Academy, Norwich, she said.

'We certainly wouldn't want to be doing anything at all until the new unitary comes into place, by which point we would have had time to talk to people and look at what they want and what opportunities there might be,' she said. 'As a new unitary we would need to look at how older people are supported.

'Obviously the county council has made its priorities clear around dementia care and re-ablement, and we will have to review where we think our priorities are and what opportunities our new neighbourhood way of working will be able to give us in terms of providing much more support locally.'

The executive report, which will be considered by councillors on Wednesdaywarns there does not appear to be enough spare capacity among alternative services offered by voluntary and community groups to take on some of the Essex Rooms and Silver Rooms users.

There are also concerns no clear plans exist showing how preventative and early intervention day services will be delivered in future.

'Our concern is they might be full or do not meet social services' criteria,' Mrs Arthur added. 'We've been told that some people might not have access in order to make space for those who have got the greatest needs. We would also want to make sure that people don't spend all day on buses going back and forth.

'It's just looking afresh at what people's needs are and how these can be met, and to make sure that whatever happens they don't have less service than they are getting at the moment.'

Hilda Bullen, who has been going to the Silver Rooms for the three times a week, for the last seven years, welcomed the city's stance.

'Anything that will save the Silver Rooms is good for me, it's completely my life,' she said. 'We want them kept open and we really want to stay together.'

Adrian Ramsay, the Green party's parliamentary candidate for Norwich South has also called for the new unitary to decide the fate of the day centres, rather than County Hall.

But David Harwood, cabinet member for adult social care at Norfolk County Council, said even if a unitary was created it could not make any decisions until after it officially took on powers in 2011.

'We don't know for definite that unitary is going to happen, but if it were then it won't happen until after an election in 2011. If nothing has happened by then, they will take them on and it will be up to them,' Mr Harwood said.

'There's no real difference between us, they are not saying anything different to what we are saying. In their consultation response they say they accept there is a case for reform of day services and existing facilities including both these centres which are in need of significant upgrading.'

The call to halt the plans comes as a report by the Audit Commission said councils in England should do more to put the needs of older people at the heart of plans for local services and to gather more information about demographics in their area.

Do you think the plans should be put on hold? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email