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Relief as children's centres in Canterbury, Herne Bay, Whitstable and Faversham are saved from the axe - except for Little Bees in Littlebourne

Families are celebrating after all but one of the six children’s centres earmarked for closure across the district and in Faversham were saved from the chop.

Kent County Council wanted to axe three centres in Canterbury, one in Whitstable, one in Herne Bay and one in Faversham under radical, cost-cutting plans.

The proposals prompted a fierce campaign by parents who use the centres, which included petitions, protests at County Hall and marches through town centres.

Parents in Whitstable were among those to protest against plans to close children's centres
Parents in Whitstable were among those to protest against plans to close children's centres

But now, the authority has announced it intends to keep St Mary’s in Faversham open, while also saving Swalecliffe in Whitstable, Briary in Herne Bay, Apple Tree in Chartham and Tina Rintoul in Hersden – albeit with reduced hours.

But it is not all good news for the city, as Little Bees in Littlebourne remains on the closure list.

Families who use that centre will still be forced to travel to a “lead” centre in Kingsmead Road instead, where services will be centralised.

Faversham parents campaigned outside County Hall
Faversham parents campaigned outside County Hall
But the axe will still fall on Little Bees in Littlebourne
But the axe will still fall on Little Bees in Littlebourne

The bittersweet news was announced today, following a three-month consultation with people who use the centres.

It is welcomed by Herne Bay MP Roger Gale, who says: “While Briary will only remain open on a part-time basis for 25 hours per week, there is the strong possibility that the health department could run their clinics outside of the children’s centre operating hours and if we can secure this then effectively, the centre could be open for 30 or more hours per week.

“At one stage, there was a real fear that the Briary Centre would close completely, forcing Greenhill parents to transport their children to the town centre, but following my representations and a site visit by cabinet member Jenny Whittle, we have achieved a more satisfactory outcome.

“The decision to reprieve the Tina Rintoul centre in Hersden is also most welcome.”

Cllr Jenny Whittle
Cllr Jenny Whittle

More than 6,000 people responded to the consultation and cabinet member for children’s services, Jenny Whittle, visited each of the centres to see how they served communities.

She says: “We had an overwhelming response to our proposal and I would like to thank all the parents who took the time to tell us their views.

“They came up with some fantastic suggestions about how we could make savings and generate income with ideas such as hiring out the buildings after-hours.

“I have listened to parents and seen first-hand the impact these centres have and, where they are vital to the community, we have found ways to keep them open.

“This consultation has never been about reducing services and these will continue to be delivered in alternative buildings in areas where a centre closes.

“I am confident that these changes will result in high-quality, effective children’s centres to support the children and families of Kent into the future.”

Kent currently has 97 children’s centres but proposed to close 23 and reduce the hours at 13 to make savings after huge cuts in government funding.

A total of 11 of the 23 centres will remain open under the new proposal, which will be discussed at the authority’s social care and public health cabinet committee on Thursday, December 5.

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