Protesters accused of clutching at straws’

PUBLISHED: 13:44 14 February 2008 | UPDATED: 21:22 31 May 2010

Wicken House study centre           Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Wicken House study centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

CAMPAIGNERS fighting the closure of Wicken House have accused Essex County councillors of ignoring the advice of their officers by deciding to close the facility. Save Wicken House (SWH) has obtained a number of e-mails from Essex County Council (ECC) tha

CAMPAIGNERS fighting the closure of Wicken House have accused Essex County councillors of ignoring the advice of their officers by deciding to close the facility.

Save Wicken House (SWH) has obtained a number of e-mails from Essex County Council (ECC) that the campaign group claims show councillors went against their officers' advice.

In a report entitled Essex Outdoors Review dated August 2006, Scenario Six discusses the possibility of closing Wicken House as "not a credible option".

This has led SWH campaigners to question how, just one year later, councillors reached their decision to close the centre.

Tim Young, SWH campaigner, said: "We always felt there was a missing bit to this puzzle and now we have found it.

"All the other papers in the review of Essex's centres only ever talked about five or six possible options for the future, none of which involved singling out Wicken House for closure. And then suddenly the cabinet decision in July 2007 was to close only Wicken House."

Mr Young also criticised Cllr Tracey Chapman's, cabinet member for schools, children and families, unsympathetic e-mail to correspondence in October 2007 from a man saying his company was interested in buying the house.

Mr Young is calling for a meeting with ECC leader, Lord Hanningfield, and he may refer the "whole sorry mess" to the Local Government Ombudsman on the grounds of maladministration.

Cllr Chapman dismissed SWH's claims, saying: "The Essex Outdoors Review formed no part of my decision-making process. I've never seen this document before - it looks like an internal memo between officers.

"Save Wicken House is clutching at straws. They are a private company, and our service is for the children and young people of Essex, not a private company."

The county council expects to sell the building by the end of March.

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