Buckinghamshire activists who are trying to overturn Buckinghamshire County Council's decision to close 19 children's centres scored their first victory yesterday at the Royal Courts of Justice.
The campaigners case will now be heard on July 2 and 3, where they maintain that the council's decision to close 19 of Buckinghamshire's 35 children's centres was unlawful because of the lack of consultation with residents.
The campaigners have maintained throughout the process that 'low income homes' will be hit the hardest by cuts, as they will now have to travel longer distances to the remaining open centres.
The campaigners were represented by barrister Stephen Broach, who put forward the argument that the council's consultation process was 'unlawful'.
The argument revolves around the council's consultation process. Parents were presented with three choices in the consultation, but no option that would allow services to continue as they were.
The case was heard by Mr Justice Supperstone, who has now granted a full judicial review of the council's decision, which will take place in July.
The anonymous mother from High Wycombe, who has been leading the legal challenge said:
"I am very happy with the outcome of today, its been a long process and finally our voices are finally being heard.
"I just want to make sure we do the best we can for our children and the staff that have supported me in my journey as a mother and to support the campaign group."
Alka Dass, long time campaigner against the closures, said: "‘After fighting this battle for the last two years, I feel like we can see the finishing line and can see an outcome.
"I am ecstatic and cannot believe how far we have come.
"The fact that this order has been granted for a judicial review gives us hope that we have a case.
"It’s been a long journey for us as a campaign group and we have fought hard with protests, petitions , Councillor’s calling the decision in, a legal challenge before with a letter and now finally this - a judicial review.
"We are very grateful to this mother who has launched this legal challenge .
"The reason why parents and residents support this cause is because children’s centres are a vital service for parents and families.
"They help make children school ready, help parents to become better parents, provide guidance as well as early intervention and prevention.
"These are all important factors to consider but we must remember, a children’s centre is not a centre without the staff that run it .
"This isn’t about buildings but about having that support and expertise and just knowing someone is there to help you and listen . The issue here needs to be addressed by Central Government and our MP’s .
"There are cuts being made to children's services and therefore local councils are closing children’s centres as a result.
"This is very shortsighted and the costs that will build up in response will break the councils budgets such as mental health.
"Please invest into the children’s centres, provide further funding and ring-fence the money.
"This is my pledge , otherwise you will find that parents will end up doing this nationally."
James Betts, the public law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Manchester office who is representing a mother fighting to stop the closure of 19 Children’s Centres in Buckinghamshire, said:
“Strong legal arguments have been made and we have been granted permission by the High Court to proceed on every ground argued. We are pleased the Court agrees our client has an arguable case that needs to be considered further.
“The judge has said the case needs to be heard urgently and a full hearing is to take place on 2-3 July which is great news for all involved.
"The universal nature of services that children’s centres provide vital support to local communities and we are pleased that this decision means that parents will have an opportunity to have their case heard. Children’s centres aim to give all children the best possible start in life and enable parents to support their child and family.They provide open access support which can be accessed at any time alongside regular stay and play sessions and parenting courses. These are vital services which support a range of parents and children.
"The Court’s decision means that it is now possible the decision to close the centres will be quashed and overturned in as little as three weeks’ time. We look forward to being able to raise the issues in Court again at the full hearing in July.”
Warren Whyte, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services said: “The County Council cannot comment further on the legal proceedings.
"We can confirm that work will continue on implementing our plans to deliver a new Family Support Service in the meantime.
"Children’s Centre services will continue, from all current sites, until the end of August.”