THE axe will fall on a social club on Friday after campaigners’ battle to keep it open was dealt a critical blow.
Eccleston Social Club’s future has been in doubt since landowners Pilkington announced it was shutting the club and selling it as vacant possession to developer Jones Homes.
However, an action group opposed to closure believed they had received assurances from Jones chiefs to keep alive “the hub of community activity”.
Campaigners wanted to install a team to run the venue and presented a business proposal to Jones. But the Cheshire-based firm dashed those hopes in a letter last week.
It sparked demonstrations from club members outside Jones’ show homes on Tuesday and left members of the action group feeling betrayed.
The looming closure is causing deep anger among members because Jones had agreed to refurbish the club, formerly known as ‘Triplex’, as a condition of securing planning permission to build 262 houses on surrounding land last year.
However, because Pilkington is axing the club, Jones is legally within its rights to buy the vacant site and does not have to upgrade it.
The action group claim that during a meeting last month a Jones Homes representative gave assurances the venue would not close on November 16.
A statement issued by the group’s committee read: “A detailed business plan was provided as requested, which was quality assured by St Helens Chamber of Commerce.
“Unfortunately, this was not deemed to be acceptable to them. Despite repeated requests, Jones Homes have denied us the opportunity to meet to discuss their perceived shortcomings in our proposals.
“This is an ideal opportunity for Jones Homes to demonstrate their commitment to the community of Eccleston, which currently they are refusing to show in any meaningful form.”
Previously, the company has pointed to its “major development investment in the borough” and stated it is “keen to take an active part in the St Helens community, particularly in Eccleston”.
The action group added: “The committee simply wish to ensure that the original planning consent, including the retention of this community facility is realised and we continue to invite Jones Homes to support us in this endeavour.”
In a statement, Jones Homes denied allegations they had broken promises: “At a recent meeting with the Eccleston Social Club action group, we requested a business plan with their proposed plans for a potential ‘New Company’ Social Club.
“We agreed to review these plans without any future commitment.
“On receiving the business plan, the Board reviewed its contents in great detail and are of the view that the overall financial case put forward would not support the continuation of the club commercially.
“Eccleston Social Club is not yet the property of Jones Homes and as such we have not made any plans for the site.
“Its closure has nothing to do with Jones Homes and is a matter between Ruskin Leisure and the Club.
“At the appropriate time, when the site is officially Jones Homes’ property, we will work with the council to determine its future use.”
THE deputy leader of St Helens Council has called upon Jones Homes to “put community wishes before profit” and save the Eccleston Social Club.
Cllr Barrie Grunewald, who is also cabinet member for urban regeneration and housing, said: “It is incredibly disappointing after raising hopes that the club had a future.
“I am calling on Jones Homes to think again and work to find a solution so the club can continue to exist.
“I have written to Jones Homes to ask that they re-consider their position and to get back round the table with the action group and find a solution to this issue.
“If Jones Homes had allowed the club to continue, but it became clear that it was not financially viable, that is one thing but to try and pass the buck to Ruskin Leisure (the Pilkington subsidiary) and force this closure to happen against the wishes of the local community is simply not good enough.”