Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Tuesday, 15 July 2008 16:11 UK

Council to close autism centre

Hyfrydle autism centre
The centre has been hit by competition from independent providers

Councillors in Denbighshire have voted to close a residential home for autistic children, less than a year after it opened.

The council said Hyfrydle children's home had been affected by competition from other autism centres, and only two of six available places had been taken.

Two out of Denbighshire's nine cabinet members voted against closure.

The council will try and place the two children elsewhere. It has not ruled out redundancy for the 26 staff.

However, the authority has said it will look for alternative employment for staff.

Speaking before the vote on Tuesday, North Wales assembly member Janet Ryder said not enough time had been given to attract the staff needed to make the centre a success.

A union also criticised the plans after 11 care workers were taken on at the home around a fortnight ago.

The centre opened in November for pupils attending Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn in Denbigh, because a need for specialist care and education packages for autistic children was identified, the council said.

But this changed with the arrival of two independent providers in the past year.

Research carried out across Wales found there were unlikely to be enough autistic children and young people requiring full time residential places and as such the home was not financially viable, added the council.

The county council themselves said when this facility opened it would take a year or two to bring in the staff and to bring in the people there
Janet Ryder AM

But Susan Fleet, whose 16 year old son, Elliot, is autistic and was due to attend the centre, said it was the last chance her son had for an education and appealed for a reprieve.

On hearing the news the centre might close she said: "It was as if I heard somebody had died. I felt myself go cold and I started to shake and I thought it was a sick joke.

"I couldn't believe that it could possibly be true, that I had found this place that obviously I thought was wonderful but it was brand new. This building, this facility, is the absolute jewel in the crown of an autism centre."

Ms Ryder, Plaid Cymru AM, who chairs the Welsh Assembly cross-party autism group, dismissed the claims that there was not enough demand in the area for the facility.

"This facility only opened last year," she said.

"The county council themselves said when this facility opened it would take a year or two to bring in the staff and to bring in the people there.

"The numbers haven't risen partly because the county council themselves haven't put the staffing in there. They only two weeks ago employed new staff to work in this unit."

She added that, along with Mrs Fleet's son, she knew of another two children who were due to start at the centre in September."

'Last resort'

Cllr Hugh Evans, leader of the council and cabinet lead member for lifelong learning, said before the vote: "This is a very difficult issue for all concerned and I can assure people that we have carefully considered all the options available to us.

"The recommendation to close the facility is very much a last resort.

"Over the next 12 weeks we will be locating alternative placements for the existing two residents and will be consulting with staff regarding redundancy. Every support possible will be offered to those involved."

Parents, staff, unions and governors were being informed of the recommend closure and reasons for it, said the council.

On Friday, Unison described the council's recent decision to take on staff at the centre as "absolute nonsense".

The National Autistic Society Cymru (NAS Cymru) also voiced concerns saying a range of provision should be made available.

Expanded autism centre to close
11 Jul 08 |  North East Wales


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