Santa needs a new home after row with council

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A COMMUNITY group is unsure of where its popular Santa’s grotto will be next year after a row with council bosses.

The Friends of Rectory Park, in Houghton, staged packed-out grottos for children in the area this month at the historic Tithe Barn.

But the group – which works with children to plant bulbs, shrubs and plants to improve the park – says Sunderland City Council has told it to use another building there as a base in future.

Group chairman and Independent councillor Sheila Ellis said: “If Sunderland Council’s intention was to make a lot of pensioners miserable this Christmas, then they have succeeded.”

The Friends have been given numerous awards this year for their work in the town, taking honours from the Royal Horticultural Society, Newcastle Building Society and an Echo Pride of Wearside award.

For the past few years the group has been fund-raising to improve the Tithe Barn, and it hoped to gain the lease for it to turn it into a community centre.

About £4,000 was raised by members to repair the roof.

Coun Ellis added: “We’ve done an enormous amount of work in Houghton and been recognised for it. We submitted two volumes of a business plans to the council about the barn, but now they have decided that we have to be out by the first week of January.

“Other community park groups are able to run council buildings, so why can’t we?

“I think we will have to set up an award for the biggest killjoys or Scrooge award, and I know who is going to win it this year.”

However, Coun Mel Speding, cabinet secretary at Sunderland Council, said: “Nobody is evicting anybody, and certainly not Santa.

“The city council has been in negotiations with the Friends about leasehold arrangements for the barn as it was previously used on an informal basis.

“In July 2012 the city council invited the Friends to submit a business plan and this is in line with council policy. This plan has not been forthcoming.

“The city council is offering an alternative park building as a base for the Friends. Options for a move in January have been suggested to the Friends.

“There are issues over the barn’s general condition and state of repair. A move will allow the council how best to consider and safeguard the barn’s future.”

Twitter: @davidallison88