It will serve people better, say Labour

First published in Local news Wharfedale Observer: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

Otley Town Council is planning its biggest shake-up for 40 years – by transforming itself into a wide-ranging community hub.

The controlling Labour group says the radical reorganisation, involving moving to larger town- centre premises which will provide a residents-driven information centre, should serve democracy better.

It is also intended to pave the way for the council hosting more services and taking on a variety of new ones under expected extended powers. They could include:

  • Running the town’s markets
  • Benefits advice and take-up, working with a welfare group
  • Forming a social enterprise to raise money for projects like Otley’s Olympics legacy running track campaign
  • An accessibility guide for disabled residents and visitors

The centre, assisted by input from groups like the Town Partnership and Chamber of Trade, would also provide tourist information, campaign updates, business advice, a planning service, and a reporting facility for complaints.

Council leader Councillor John Eveleigh (Lab, Ashfield) said: “This is all about making the council more relevant and accountable to residents with the key principle the provision of as many different services as locally as possible.

“This is the biggest shake-up in 40 years and it will change the way the council operates, hopefully giving it a much more community-based focus so we can identify, reflect and react to people’s needs.

“The benefits of adopting this strategy will be enormous and, by being closer to our residents, we’ll be able to better articulate their views – as we, through 2013, develop Otley’s Neighbourhood Plan the new centre will become a hub of community activity.”

Councillors will debate the scheme when they meet next Monday, but have already agreed to the office move, which will see the council taking over the Wharfedale & Aireborough Observer’s former base in Orchard Gate next spring.

The proposals would turn most of the downstairs into a fully accessible information centre while offices would be created on both floors.

A lift would also be installed to make the first floor, which would act primarily as a meeting place for the council and outside groups, fully accessible.

Labour says the new arrangements will be slightly more expensive than the current set-up, and include some one-off costs – with the move estimated to cost £45,000, plus IT expenses.

But it expects some expenses to be offset by the savings that will come from being able to hold many of its meetings in-house, and letting other groups hire its room.

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