COUNCILLORS will discuss under-fire plans to spend millions on a state-of-the-art youth zone a stone’s throw from the town centre this week - after it was claimed the cash would be better spent boosting struggling provisions across the borough.
The former electricity depot, which lies between Schwabisch Gmund Way, Harborough Hill Road and Mottram Street, has been derelict for years but been identified as Barnsley Council’s next major project after the completion of its flagship Glass Works scheme in 2021.
Documents show the £7.4m project has been put back six months due to the coronavirus pandemic, but local authority bosses pledged their support to the scheme and the site is now in the council’s ownership.
OnSide, a firm behind a series of successful youth zones across the country, has been identified as the preferred provider of the proposed scheme but opposition councillors believe the money should be divided up and spent elsewhere.
Coun Jake Lodge, who represents the Worsbrough ward, said: “An investment in youth services is needed more than ever.
“I believe we need to re-think the investment in the proposed town centre youth zone and instead use the money to invest in youth services in communities and the already existing groups that can deliver on these.
“The sector has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, poverty is rising and venues and groups associated with building children’s resilience are struggling.
“To spend £7m in one place, when so many other areas across the town need help, is unacceptable.”
A question and answer session will take place on the proposed scheme at the full council meeting on Thursday, where it is expected Barnsley’s Liberal Democrats will back Coun Lodge’s calls for a re-think.
It comes after Barnsley fared poorly in recent studies into poverty, with more children relying on food banks than ever before and more than 25,000 residents in the town claiming some form of Universal Credit - up by almost 4,000 since lockdown began in March.
Ailing centres and a lack of provision for youngsters have been widely criticised across the borough, and councillors against the plan believe other areas should be in line for cash instead of the town centre-focused scheme.
A council report said: “Young people under the age of 20 make up 23.1 per cent of the population in Barnsley - 22.8 per cent of local children are known to be living in poverty.
“In March, OnSide issued revised capital estimates for the ‘construction and fit out’ of the facility. The revised estimates increased capital costs from the original £6m estimate to £7.4m.
“OnSide indicated they would expect the council to provide £3.45m of the £7.4m.
“Barnsley’s youth zone is an opportunity for the council to invest in a state-of-the-art youth facility and iconic ‘hub’ that will demonstrate a commitment to the health, wellbeing and development of all the existing and future generations of young people in the borough, while also complementing the wider regeneration of the town centre.”
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