By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
Councillors have voted down a motion calling for the idea of ‘warm rooms’ to be investigated in public buildings across Nottinghamshire.
The scheme has been brought in by several other councils across the country in a bid to help people struggling to heat their homes amid surging energy costs.
Under the proposals, put forward by the Labour Group on Nottinghamshire County Council, public buildings like libraries would be open for longer during winter months to offer struggling residents warm places to go.
But the ruling Conservative Group voted the proposals down at the full council meeting on Thursday (September 22).
Councillor Ben Bradley MP (Con), the council’s leader, said the policy would “not be the best use of limited funds”, and said different forms of support would be provided instead.
However, Labour and Independent Alliance councillors voted in favour of the proposal and spoke of the hardship some residents across Nottinghamshire are experiencing.
Cllr Paul Henshaw (Lab), who represents Mansfield West and who proposed the motion, said: “When we look at the number of people who are going to be affected by fuel poverty and the cost of living emergency, the figures are stark and frightening.
“Why haven’t we, at least, asked the council officers to look at this and report on whether a similar proposal might work here?
“That’s all we’re asking, let’s look at it and see whether we can do something.
“It’s effective action to support people. We need to accept there is a cost of living emergency and that we have – and I don’t use this word lightly – a moral responsibility to act.”
Cllr Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), leader of the Independent Alliance group, added: “Members of the public are pretty scared and I speak to people who are in work and are scared about the bills they’ve got to pay.
“They are completely in the dark about what may come to help them. They want to know, literally, what they can do to pay their bills.
“This motion comes from a good place, where people want to show that government of all levels are on their side.”
However, the Conservatives did not support the idea of ‘warm rooms’ and believed funding would be better spent on helping people with “direct action”.
They pointed to the Household Support Fund – a funding pot specifically for those struggling most with their bills – which will come forward for its third round of funding next month.
Within this, the authority is expecting £5.6m that it can use to offer vouchers and support for families – including low-income households and those with children on free school meals.
And Cllr John Cottee (Con), portfolio holder for communities, also believed the ‘warm rooms’ scheme was not required because it’s “already provided” through the county’s network of 60 libraries.
He said: “We already have these, but we don’t happen to call them ‘warm rooms’ because this would imply it’s their only purpose.
“Rather, we have open, free-to-use public buildings such as our libraries and we still have 60 libraries located in communities across the whole of Nottinghamshire.
“We realised many years ago the future of our libraries was far more than just lending books.
“[They are] spaces where people can read, meet and socialise, and enjoy a wide range of activities while in a warm, well-lit and comfortable environment.
“We don’t need to rename facilities as ‘warm rooms’ for a few months, but if people want to use them as warm rooms then that’s what they can be.”
Councillors voted the motion down by 32 votes to 23.
Cllr Bradley added: “I have a huge amount of sympathy with the premise of the motion. Of course, we’re very concerned about the impact of rising prices but we’ve been doing everything in our power to support those residents.
“This is just as we did with Covid, through the recovery period and now with the cost of living.
“We are doing everything we can to try and support local people. Over recent years, £20m has been shared from here to fund residents, community groups and charities in direct support of the most vulnerable people.
“That continues this winter and, just this week, we’ve been finalising the next phase of the Household Support Fund.”