By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
Opposition councillors are to call on Nottinghamshire County Council to investigate whether public buildings could be opened up this winter to help people keep warm.
The scheme, known as creating ‘warm rooms’, has been brought in by several other councils across the country in a bid to help people deal with surging energy costs during the cost of living crisis.
Under the proposals, public buildings, such as libraries and community centres, would be open for longer during winter months to offer free heating for people struggling to afford their energy bills.
But the council’s Conservative Leader says it is “very unlikely” he and fellow Tory members will support the move, adding his group intends to instead put forward a plan of other measures to help households.
The motion, submitted by the opposition Labour Group at the council, will be debated at a full council meeting on September 22.
It reads: “Many local authorities … have plans to implement policies, such as the establishment of communal ‘warm rooms’, where residents in need can access free, heated spaces.
“[We ask the council to] support the implementation of a ‘warm rooms’ scheme across Nottinghamshire, similar to existing schemes proposed by other local authorities elsewhere, at the earliest opportunity.”
As well as calling for the warm rooms scheme to be investigated, Labour will also ask the Conservative administration to reveal its plan for supporting people with the cost of living.
The motion has been proposed by Councillor Paul Henshaw (Lab), who represents Mansfield West, and seconded by Cllr Kate Foale, the Labour Group leader.
Cllr Henshaw told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “In times of struggle and hardship like this, we need to come together.
“This motion is about asking the council to have a look at what publicly accessible buildings are in our communities, whether we manage them or even if they’re run by our community partners.
“And it’s about putting a plan in place to consider the potential of some of these spaces being used as suitable destinations to direct people who literally will not be able to keep warm over the coming winter months.”
He says the motion “wouldn’t necessarily cost the council a penny”, with many public buildings staying heated all-year-around and opening regularly.
“This policy could be the answer for some of those people,” he adds.
“It could be as simple as identifying the appropriate spaces, signposting people to the spaces and letting them know where to go if they need to stay warm.”
But Cllr Ben Bradley MP (Con), leader of the council, says the move is not something his Conservative Group will likely be supporting.
He said he would outline full reasons why during the meeting, adding he will also outline the authority’s overall plans to tackle the cost of living crisis.
He added he does not think warm rooms are a “sensible proposition”.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It’s very unlikely we will support it, we’re still digging through the details of it but there are a variety of reasons as to why it doesn’t make sense as a policy.
“I don’t think warm rooms is a sensible proposition – it’s one of those policies that’s more about appearing to do something than actually doing the best thing.
“We will lay out the reasons behind that next week at full council.
“We will [also] go through, in detail, the many things and the many millions of pounds we’re spending at the county council in supporting people with the cost of living and energy, as well as the billions of pounds the Government is spending.”
It comes after Shoana Qureshi-Khan, deputy director of the Himmah Food Bank in Radford, described warm rooms as “dehumanising” and called on councils to be “more creative” in supporting struggling families.
She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service last month: “Winter will [soon] be upon us and people won’t be able to keep warm. It will be a hideous winter for them.
“Where is the dignity and humanity in having warm spaces for people to gather? It’s appalling.”
She added: “Local authorities also need to be more creative with their ideas.”