Calderdale college building transferred to community group

Councillors approved an asset transfer of a former Calderdale college building but after a debate not without controversy.

Thursday, 12th November 2020, 2:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 12th November 2020, 2:06 pm

Calderdale Council’s Cabinet agreed to the transfer of Todmorden Community College to the Todmorden Learning Centre organisation and were told it involved some financial risk.

The council will provide a maximum £117,500 buffer over the next three years.

The money for this will come from residual funding from the Local Business Growth Initiative, of which £265,000 remains from a £1 million grant awarded 15 years ago.

Todmorden Community College, which will now become Todmorden Learning Centre (TLC)

Councillors heard the buffer is needed because the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic brings uncertainty to income which might be realised.

The project was focused on learning and skills and the briefing paper to members said it would provide affordable rental opportunities for businesses, space for community based services and a hub for council services.

Coun Jane Scullion said the council intended to continue a tenancy at the building, which houses its Sure Start children’s centre.

The council had “pushed down the assumption of optimism bias” when considering Todmorden Learning Centre’s plans, working on the assumption no external funding was coming in – the centre had actually heard it had got a £350,000 grant for an environmental project, she said.

The authority had also included a “clawback” clause which meant if the centre got money in, for example if a National Lottery bid was successful, the council would claim the amount back.

Money was not being borrowed for the purpose but was a sum which had always been intended for Todmorden, said Coun Scullion.

But Coun Steven Leigh (Con, Ryburn) was worried about details in a letter sent from a member of Todmorden Town Board about the transfer to Cabinet. “The fact it came from that source is ringing alarm bells to me,” he said.

Coun Scullion (Lab, Luddenden Foot) said it had been considered – it was difficult to say more because that part of the report was exempt to the public.

Coun James Baker (Lib Dem, Warley) said he hoped things were being looked at objectively but added “how much is done on the merits of the project and how much done on political connections this project has with other people?”

He hoped it would be a success but there were some issues that flagged concerns.

The political allegation was refuted by Coun Scullion who said officers had “hammered the assumptions” of the business plan. “I don’t pretend there isn’t risk,” she said.