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Group eyes legal challenge over proposal by London borough to close two children’s centres

A group of parents, carers and local community members are crowd funding a legal challenge in a bid to stop Hackney Council from closing two children’s centres.

The group, Save Fernbank & Hillside Children's Centres from closure, claimed on its Crowd Justice page that closure of the two centres in Stoke Newington would result in the loss of 109 affordable childcare places to Hackney families. “This is around a 20% cut of subsidised nursery places in Hackney and a 26% reduction in subsidised spaces for 0-2-year-olds, to just 93 places.”

It added that the closures would disproportionately affect vulnerable children, lower-income families, women, single parents, and people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds. 

The proposed closures also mean that 35 staff are facing possible redundancy, the group said.

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Advised by law firm Rook Irwin Sweeney, it said it had identified that: 

  • The data and evidence included in the rationale for proposed closures was “incorrect, incomplete and, in places, actively misleading”. 
  • There was no evidence that other options had been explored or exhausted prior to proposal of these closures. 
  • The public consultation, which closes on 16 November 2021, was not being conducted properly and is leading people to respond in favour of closures. 

The group is initially hoping to raise £3,600 to cover the legal fees of the solicitors and barrister, plus the costs of VAT. “They will be investigating and considering all of the decision making and consultation paperwork, advising us on the merits of a challenge, and preparing pre-action correspondence to the local authority. Our solicitors have also agreed to act at a reduced hourly rate.”

Cllr Caroline Woodley, Cabinet Member for Early Years at Hackney, said: “The consultation remains open. The Council will consider all representations made during this period before making a final decision at Council Cabinet in December.

“We’ve held off proposing cuts to our children’s centre provision for as long as we possibly can, but we have exhausted all other options, and now must make the difficult decision to consult on shutting two children’s centres in order to make the drastic service savings required and safeguard our wider network of provision.

“In making these proposals, we’ve looked very carefully at various factors, including vacancy data."

She added: “We know this is a disappointing and worrying time for these local parents and carers. Should the proposed closures go ahead, we will do absolutely everything in our power to support them and help them access alternative provision where needed; and these children will be given priority where there are vacancies at other children's centres, including at the three within a short walking distance. We have already begun mapping this and won’t leave any family without support.”

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