CONTROVERSIAL work on changing the former Arts Lodge into a hub for adults with learning disabilities has got underway.
Portsmouth City Council has begun building and construction work on the site in Victoria Park.
Over 2,000 people in the city have a learning disability. This facility will be perfect for them.Councillor Donna Jones, leader of city council
It involves £100,000 of improvement works to the site that will include a new cafe and kitchen.
Former operator Art & Soul Traders was evicted from the site in February.
Five people were arrested after police were called to the eviction.
A new operator for the site is yet to be secured with the lodge set to re-open its doors to the public later this summer.
Councillor Donna Jones, Conservative leader of the council said: ‘We are carrying out extensive works to deliver improvements that will provide one of the best facilities in the south for adults with learning disabilities.
‘We’re absolutely committed to enhancing Victoria Park so that it can be of further benefit to the community and for use by everyone. Over 2,000 people in the city have a learning disability. This facility will be perfect for them.’
The council repossessed the property following the expiration of the former operators’ lease in the days before.
According to the council, Art & Soul Traders was repeatedly informed on multiple occasions that the lease was duty to expire.
The traders had been preparing a business plan to keep the lodge going at the time of eviction.
Lib Dem city councillor Steve Pitt has been a vocal critic of the council’s handling of the lodge.
He questioned the council’s intention for the building after pointing to the tender description for the site’s potential operator on the council’s website.
The description reads that the authority is looking for ‘suitably qualified and experienced operators to deliver a cafe service with accompanying social value outcomes in Victoria Park’.
It adds that the operator will ‘provide a base for a high quality cafe while simultaneously contributing the authority’s aspiration of encouraging and enable vulnerable residents.’
Cllr Pitt said: ‘The jury is out on whether we will end up with a facility for adults with learning disabilities like the council promised.
‘At the moment, we’ve got a cafe and with this very vague description, it seems unclear as to what we will get from the site.’
According to the tender description, the authority is targeting to award the contract by June 9.