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Row could delay community centre revamp
1:20pm Friday 27th April 2012 in Oxford
A ROW over plans to build a new community centre on an Oxford estate could delay the scheme.
The plan to demolish the existing Northway Community Centre and replace it with a £750,000 facility including a sports hall is part of a deal between Oxford City Council and the housing association Green Square, which would see more than 40 new homes built.
But a dispute between members of Northway Community Association is threatening to hold up the scheme, with questions over whether city councillor Roy Darke had the authority to sign a lease agreement.
Trustees of the centre have asked the Charity Commission to rule on whether Mr Darke acted unconstitutionally.
The issue is also threatening to dominate the local election in Northway, with the returning officer being asked to investigate Mr Darke’s claims that he is the chairman of the community association.
The dilapidated state of the community centre has led to repeated calls for it to be replaced.
A new three-storey centre is proposed, with a function room, kitchen, bar, sports hall, five committee rooms and changing rooms.
But things began to go wrong when the annual meeting of the community association last year failed to appoint a chairman.
Mr Darke, who is fighting to hold Northway for Labour in Thursday’s local elections, says after that meeting he volunteered to act as chairman on the basis that none of the trustees would take the role.
When the lease agreement for the new centre came forward, after some negotiation Mr Darke signed it believing it would secure a major new facility for Northway.
But he is now facing accusations that he exceeded his powers.
Association member Georgina Gibbs said: “Mr Darke was not elected. He is not the chairman.”
She said the post should not be filled by a political party’s representative and trustees were unhappy about the housing.
She said: “We want a new community centre but not with the extra buildings. Any more pressure on the drainage system here will cause big problems.”
Mr Darke said: “This is a fantastic deal giving us a community centre at a peppercorn rent on a 25-year lease. The present building is falling to bits. It is a disgrace. I fear this kerfuffle could put it back.”
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