A plea to save the future of Preston's Youth Zone

In an open letter, Youth Zone chairman Guy Topping has written to Lancashire County Council detailing how Preston's Youth Zone can be saved. We are publishing it in full:

Thursday, 9th August 2018, 12:14 am
Updated Monday, 13th August 2018, 11:31 am
An artists' impression of how Preston Youth Zone could look

“Today you will decide the future of Preston Youth Zone. In doing so, you have a huge opportunity to provide thousands of young people with somewhere to go, something to do and someone to talk to. "Preston Youth Zone will give young people opportunities that are, literally, life changing. Likewise, if you are to accept the recommendation to abandon the Preston Youth Zone project you will be failing thousands of young people, their families and the wider community. "Rarely will you have such a golden opportunity to have such a positive impact on young people’s lives for generations to come. Please do not waste it!"The idea that there is nobody interested in managing Preston Youth Zone is simply not true. We have been working with you for nine years and you know full well that we are desperate to bring this facility to Preston. "We are standing by with millions of pounds of private money and the time and energy of the local business community to run it, all backed up with the expertise of OnSide, the organisation who have delivered Youth Zones around the country."Unlike every other council in the country that has a Youth Zone, or has one coming, Lancashire County Council have chosen to embark on a tendering process that was always destined to fail. "I sincerely hope that these were errors of judgement, rather than a deliberate plan to kill the project."All other Youth Zones work as a partnership between local councils and their local business communities. We have worked with you in this manner for eight years but, inexplicably, you now wish to make our relationship that of client and supplier. "No charitable organisation is going to accept such an extraordinary demand."A partnership relationship is essential to achieve a project that works for all. "Your current tender documentation contains at least two clear examples of what can happen when those representing OnSide, and its highly successful Youth Zone model, are set aside: OnSide have found that in order to raise private money, potential donors have to believe that a Youth Zone is going to be there for the very long term. "All Youth Zones therefore have leases of 125 years with the local council and no break clauses. In keeping with the partnership relationship, they are on peppercorn rents. "This is what we had agreed with you. Now that you no longer want a partnership you are offering just a 25 year lease, with break clauses and at a market rent. Who would spend £3m on a leasehold property with just twenty five years to run on the lease?"You also decided that the Youth Offending Team would have to be sited in the Youth Zone. "Youth Zones are vibrant buildings crammed with exciting spaces for young people, not office spaces. Worse, young offenders would be forced to come to the Youth Zone and the Youth Zone would be forced to accommodate them. "Youth Zones are great places for young offenders and can make a great deal of difference in their rehabilitation; but the young people have to want to come to the Youth Zone and because they want to be there they respect the building, their peers and themselves. "Forcing offenders to attend is a recipe for disaster; it would lead to disruption and would result in young people being put off attending the Youth Zone, not to mention the obvious issues around the safeguarding of users. "To compound the problem, your tender process made it very clear that any bids submitted that included variances to your specifications would be disqualified."More important than all of this is the problem with the costs: your procurement processes apparently mean that we have to spend £8.5m to build something that is right now being built in London for less than £6.5m. "Why is that? We could not possibly collude in the wasting of public and charitably donated monies."None of this should, under any circumstances, be interpreted as meaning that we are not interested in operating the Youth Zone. The partners on the Preston Youth Zone Board are, and have always been, willing to sit down in partnership with Lancashire County Council to reach an agreement that makes Preston Youth Zone a reality."We already have £3m pledged to support Preston Youth Zone and this will increase. There is a solution to be found, if you genuinely want to see the Youth Zone happen. Quite simply, you owe it to the young people of Preston to give the project every opportunity to succeed. "I would urge you to do the right thing and keep Youth Zone project alive and instruct your officers to get around the table with myself and other partners, who have worked so hard over the past decade, to bring this much needed facility about.”

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Guy Topping chairman of the board, Preston Youth Zone