Brent Council faces second High Court case over closure plans

Angry parents hope to overturn plans to axe respite centre for autistic children

Campaigners are awaiting the outcome of a judicial review which could overturn the controversial decision to close a centre for autistic children.

Brent Council wants to close down Crawford Avenue short break unit, in Crawford Avenue, Wembley, which specialises in caring for children suffering from autism.

Under the plans, 67 children who use the centre will be moved to another residential unit in Brondesbury.

But carers say it is not adapted to the needs of autistic children because it caters for children with physical disabilities.

Last week the case was heard in the Royal Courts of Justice.

Fitzroy Lee, father of 17-year-old Kamaria who has been going to Crawford since she was seven, said: “I am really pleased we took the council all the way to court.

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“The decision to close Crawford Avenue was taken without any regard for the needs of our children or the wishes and feelings of parents.

“At no stage did the council think of the impact on family life the closure would bring.”

Jay Lad, father of 13-year-old Jaina, said: “It took Jaina over a year to settle into Crawford, get familiar with her surroundings and build a relationship with her carers.

“For the council to close this centre and move Jaina to Clement Close which is not fit for purpose is not an option.”

The council says the closure is not to save money, but the centre is rented by the authority from Barnados for �32,250 a year. To date, it has cost the council �11,475 exclusive of VAT defending its decision in court.

The garden was last year refitted with specialist sensory equipment, but the council says it is not fit for purpose. Arjun Patel, 12, who attends Crawford Avenue, helped to raise money for the new equipment. He said: “I am very upset because I put in a lot of hard work to raise money for the garden and now everything is ready, they are closing it down.”

And Romana Bhatti, mother of 15-year-old Zahra, said: “In times of emergencies Crawford Avenue has proven to be a safe haven.

“If an emergency were to arise our children would be placed in an unfamiliar environment which would increase the stress and anxiety levels of our already vulnerable children.”

It is the second time in a matter of months that Brent Council has fought a judicial review in the High Court.

The council was first brought before the court earlier this year to defend its decision to close six libraries in the borough.

A spokesman said: “The council believes its decision to restructure its short break residential provision and to close Crawford Avenue was a proper and lawful decision.

“It is part of an overall plan to develop and improve the quality of short break services in Brent. We reiterate that families will continue to be offered a range of short break services for the same hours as they are currently entitled to.

“The current financial climate is such that changes have to be made to the way the council delivers a number of services. A new, modern short breaks unit at The Village School is due to open in 2012.”