Protesters hit out at council for 'undermining democracy'

CAMPAIGNERS have accused city chiefs of undermining local democracy after a motion opposing the closure of six community centres was taken off the agenda for today's full council meeting.

The council said the motion was out of order because of the way it was written, as it stated that the closures had been "agreed" when they were still out for consultation.

But one of the protest leaders said if it was just a matter of wording, the debate should have been allowed to go ahead.

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He also claimed the move meant the closures could now be approved by a committee rather than being brought before a meeting of the full council.

Rev James Aitken, who chairs the management committee at Gorgie Memorial Hall, one of the centres earmarked to shut, said: "The decision is now likely to be taken at the children and families committee in May.

"If it doesn't come to the council meeting today, it probably won't come to a full council meeting at all. We feel local democracy is being undermined."

He said it was only at a meeting with council officials on Tuesday night that the protesters discovered there had been no formal decision to close the centres and there was a consultation being carried out.

He said: "There has been a lot of confusion over how this decision has been taken or is being taken."

Also scheduled to close are Sighthill, Longstone and Colinton Mains community centres, the Platform Adult Learning Centre in Wester Hailes and numeracy tuition centre The Number Shop in the Pleasance.

The closures would save 120,000 a year.

Campaigners were today going ahead with the protest they had planned but they were refused permission to demonstrate inside the City Chambers quadrangle because of "sensitive" meetings nearby. They were directed instead to the opposite side of the road near the Mercat Cross.

Mr Aitken criticised plans to relocate some groups from Gorgie Memorial Hall to the new Tynecastle High School because the space was not adequate and groups would have to pay much higher rates.

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Edinburgh Central Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said: "It's a really short-sighted move by the council."

A council spokeswoman said the consultation on the closures would run until 9 April. She said: "Any decision to refer a report to full council would be taken at the committee meeting."