8 July 2011
Cathnor Park Children’s Centre is a local community Sure Start centre in West London. It provides free early education for children as well as links to education, housing, health and employment services for parents. It serves an area of particularly high deprivation and is a vital life-line for its vulnerable users, ensuring that they can get help when they need it and tackling issues before they develop into greater problems.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council decided on 18 April to cut Cathnor Park’s funding by around 90% and stop some of its services and move most of those remaining to another centre nearly a kilometre away. Under the Council’s plans, Cathnor Park would have provided a diluted service providing around two sessions a week so giving parents little reason to attend with their children.
Leigh Day & Co was contacted by a mother with substantial needs who made extensive use of the services and was deeply concerned by this decision. Disabled and with a partner who was severely visually impaired, they had come to rely on Cathnor Park and would find it practically impossible to take their two children to the alternative centre because of their personal circumstances.
Leigh Day & Co brought a judicial review challenge, with Legal Aid funding, to the High Court on their client’s behalf. They argued that the Council had failed to undertake a proper and meaningful equality impact assessment and that the Council’s consultation was flawed.
Before the hearing, the Council made major concessions, apparently restoring most of the services it had proposed to remove from Cathnor Park. It was however unwilling to guarantee to provide those services.
Early on in the hearing the Judge, Mr Justice Collins, gave a clear indication that he considered Leigh Day to have an arguable case and thought that it was reasonable to require a substantial level of clarity about the services to be provided at Cathnor Park. The hearing was adjourned to allow the Council to review its position and it grudgingly agreed to confirm a level of service at Cathnor Park which is broadly in line with the services provided there at present. As a result of this settlement, the Council will continue to fund Cathnor Park and ensure nine sessions a week are provided from the Centre.
Our client’s claim was withdrawn on the basis of that settlement.
Richard Stein of Leigh Day & Co said:
“I’m delighted that we have helped to save Cathnor Park from being run down to a shadow of its former self and that our client and her children (and others like them) will be able to benefit from the fantastic services this Sure Start Centre provides to the community in the years to come.
We argued that the Council had failed to perform a proper equality impact assessment and that its consultation was a sham.
This action demonstrates the effectiveness of using the Courts to hold local authorities to account. Legal action can be a powerful tool to protect public services from poorly thoughtthrough funding cuts...”
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