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Community centre sell-off feared as housing association is told: ‘You’ve a moral obligation to people living on estates’

Warned that consultation survey could be a precursor to the new community centre being sold off

04 December, 2016 — By Koos Couvée

Martin Klute: ‘Why do they have to make a profit?’

A HOUSING association is facing fresh accusations that it is shirking its social responsibility after claiming it cannot afford to run community centres on two Islington estates.

Popular community centres on the Packington estate, near Angel, and Ringcross estate, in Holloway – formerly owned by Islington Council – are facing an uncertain future after Hyde Housing launched a consultation aimed at finding new organisations to run them.

Hyde opened The Arc community centre in 2012 as part of the Packington estate redevelopment. The 100-capacity venue is used by community groups.

The social landlord, which has a turnover of £326million, says it is operating in a “more challenging environment” because of the government’s one per cent rent reduction for social tenants. This has prompted a review of its services aimed at cutting costs.

But St Peter’s ward Labour councillor Martin Klute has warned that the consultation could be a precursor to the new community centre being sold off.

“It’s yet another abdication of Hyde’s social responsibility,” he said. “Surely [providing a community centre] should have been part of their obligation when the estate was transferred to them?

“Either way, there’s a moral obligation to provide amenities for residents on the estate. Why do they have to make a profit on it? For them to say they can lease it out to someone else, how’s that going to improve the situation if it still needs a subsidy?

“It sounds like they want to hide behind someone else when the thing closes because it’s not working.”

Hyde’s latest financial report reveals a doubling of the organisation’s surplus, from £42million in 2014 to £82million last year, thanks to a drive to sell assets and build more homes for sale and private rent.

Commenting on the figures, Cllr Klute added: “If they are running pretty big surpluses, they should be able to afford a community centre for a few thousand pounds. They also wanted to charge tenants extra for CCTV on the estate. It just seems they’re behaving like a private landlord.”

The row follows disputes between the housing association and residents on three other Islington estates over issues such as damp, disrepair and parking charges. Earlier this year, community nursery Market Playgroup, rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted, was forced to close after 40 years when Hyde sold its building to a private landlord.

The housing association has said the annual cost of running The Arc is £116,000 and The Ring­cross Centre £106,500, while they bring in just £38,000 and £12,000 respectively.

But Angie Passingham, former chairwoman of Ringcross tenants’ and residents’ association, questioned the figures.

“We are not getting a breakdown of the costs. Hyde have refused to give it,” she said. “When I heard how much they said it cost I said: ‘No way.’

“It’s a centre for the community and if you’re taking it away it’s not fair. They know what they want to do. It’s signed and sealed. I’m just hoping it goes to the right organisation.”

A Hyde spokesman said the housing association has to “make efficient use of its income to ensure we are able to prioritise building more homes to help address the housing crisis”.

He added: “We are recommending that the building [Ringcross] is leased to a group or organisation who will deliver services that benefit the community.

“This week we started a four-week consultation for people to give us their feedback on the recommendation.

“Details on how to take part in the consultation will be on our website. We would urge those with an interest to contact us at communitycentresreview@hyde-housing.co.uk.”

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