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Cash for youth centre and library faces axe as police plan move

Herald Series: Concern over cuts Concern over cuts

WANTAGE police station is set to move out of town and funding for the town’s youth centre and Grove Library faces the axe, it has been announced.

The police station, which adjoins the empty Wantage Magistrates’ Court in Church Street, would be shut and relocated under a Thames Valley Police cash-saving drive.

The Sweatbox youth centre on King Alfred’s Specialist Sports College’s east site in Springfield Road and Grove Library in Millbrook would lose funding under cuts proposed by Oxfordshire County Council.

Council chiefs have called on volunteers to run the services instead, warning they would close if this did not happen.

Wendy Stimpson, of Wantage West Neighbourhood Action Group, which brings police and residents together to discuss issues, said: “I fear it will be an absolute disaster if the police station closes. Once the police station has gone, I see the crime level going way up.”

Former prison officer Michael Kelly, 55, of Stockham Park, said: “I think it is disgusting.

“If we lost that police station, it would be a problem.”

A Thames Valley Police authority report has proposed “procuring an out-of-town building for the response and neighbourhood teams” at a cost of £758,000.

It would get £930,000 for selling the station and magistrates’ court after buying the court freehold for £310,000. It has pledged to retain a “counter service” in the town.

Mayor Jim Sibbald said: “They are trying to turn Wantage into a hamlet.” He branded the move “very short-sighted” as 2,500 homes were planned for Grove and 1,500 more expected for east Wantage.

The court, the register office and the Vale of White Horse District Council’s one-stop shop have all closed in recent years.

Thames Valley Police spokesman Rebecca Webber said: “We are exploring opportunities to provide buildings which better meet our needs in terms of service delivery to the public and value for money.”

Liberal Democrat opposition councillors hit out at the proposed youth service and library cuts.

Grove and Wantage councillor Jenny Hannaby said: “I do not know whether it is panic cutting or the rural areas are just being abandoned. We are having more houses and less services to keep the wellbeing of these newcomers.

“Wantage has a battle on its hands and we will have to look to the community again to find the services the council are intent on withdrawing.” Ward colleague, councillor Zoe Patrick, said: “They are getting people to come forward to try to run the services themselves, but how practical that will be is yet to be found out.”

As part of its proposed cuts, which do not affect Wantage Library in Stirlings Road, the council is putting up a one-off £200,000 fund to help volunteers take on the running of libraries. The council has to save a total £155m by 2015.

Conservative council leader Keith Mitchell said: “It is uncomfortable, but we have a national crisis in terms of the financial situation and we are all going to bear the pain.”

And he warned: “I fear petitions and protests will not be effective.”

The number of redundancies in both services has not been revealed, but 1,000 job losses are expected across the authority.

The proposals could change when council cash settlements are announced later this month.

l A bid by bookmaker Stan James to use the former one-stop shop in Grove Street was rejected by the Vale council over fears it would take up retail space.

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