A SOUTH Tyneside councillor has been blasted for suggesting a 6,000-name campaign petition – collected by pensioners in bitterly cold temperatures – was “not worth the paper it was written on”.
Elderly people could be forced to leave Queens Road Day Centre in Jarrow within weeks, despite collecting thousands of signatures in support of saving the popular day centre, which last year marked its 30th anniversary.
There was anger when Labour ward member Coun Jim Perry dismissed the petition at a meeting with officials and pensioners at the centre in Saxon Way, Jarrow, this week.
During a meeting with Primrose ward Couns Perry, Ken Stephenson and Emma Lewell-Buck, pensioners were told they could be moved to part of Jarrow Community Centre by the end of February.
Joyce Miller, the centre’s committee secretary, said: “I feel angry, because the council seems to have given us no options but to move out in weeks.
“We stood in the cold for three days and collected 6,000 signatures, but they seem to have ignored that.
“Coun Perry said the petition would not change anything and was not even worth the paper it was written on.
“We thought we would receive the backing of our local councillors to keep the centre open, but that was not the case.
“All they offered us was the woodwork room in the old Mid-Tyne Activities Centre, but that means we won’t be able to have things like carpet bowls and line dancing or hot meals.
“Members are very down about this and just feel the move will split up Queens Road Day Centre.”
Members even suggested they could buy the centre, but claim councillors dismissed the suggestion.
South Tyneside Council spends an estimated £78,000 a year on the upkeep of the community facility.
Independent Jarrow Couns Steve Harrison and Linda Hemmer slammed Coun Perry’s comments.
Coun Harrison said: “I think the Labour ward councillors should hang their heads in shame.
“They should be supporting people in their community, not just closing centres.
“And I think it’s amazing that a Labour councillor could say a 6,000-name petition was not worth the paper it was written on. It’s called ‘democracy’.
“I hope pensioners remember this decision the next time they go to the ballot box.”
Coun Hemmer said: “I don’t think councillors should be telling pensioners their petition is not worth the paper it’s written on after elderly people spent three days out in the cold in Jarrow shopping centre, collecting 6,000 signatures.”
The proposal to close the centre may be considered at a meeting of Jarrow and Boldon community area forum, at Jarrow Town Hall, on February 28, at 10am.
RESPONDING to the criticism, Coun Perry said: “I say that about every petition.
“People spend hours collecting petitions, but I don’t believe they ultimately influence democratic decisions.”
On the centre closure plans, he added: “It is a tight timescale, but I think it could be possible to move members over to the old Mid-Tyne Activities Centre, now part of Jarrow Community Centre, by the end of February.
“My feeling from the meeting was that most centre officials accepted the suggestion about moving over. There were concerns about disabled access, but there are lifts to all levels.
“Members will have access to other facilities at Jarrow Community Centre, but it’s true these will be in other parts of the building.”