JUST eight months after deciding to axe it Southampton City Council has announced that it will keep a popular respite care centre open.

Speaking at the full council meeting last night, council leader Chris Hammond made the promise to retain the Kentish Road respite centre – going back on a move made by former leader Simon Letts.

Cllr Hammond, who had earlier voted for closure,  also apologised to users of the centre, and admitted the previous decision to shut the centre last November was not the authority’s “finest hour”.

However, the centre, which was previously open full time, will only be open at weekends.

He said: “I would like to offer an apology to the families that use Kentish Road. This has not been the council’s finest hour and it is right to acknowledge this.

“Since I became leader, I’ve spent time listening to the families, visiting respite centres and speaking to charities.

"The common thread in all these conversations was that a one-size fits all approach to care doesn’t work.

“By retaining the site we have the opportunity to deliver the right mix of adult social care options in the future.

"We will develop services delivered at the centre, in partnership with people who use the service, their families and our partners.”

At a council meeting in April, a decision was made to keep the Kentish Road respite centre open while discussions were held with community and voluntary groups about alternative provision at centre.

But after reviewing the alternative plans, Cllr Hammond confirmed the decision for the authority to take over the centre was the best on offer, “in order to continue to meet the needs of people with learning disabilities”.

The decision to close Kentish Road was initially announced in 2015, following a 12-week consultation with carers.

At the time, the authority said it would save £300,000 from the closure – though this figure has been questioned by carers and opposition Conservative councillors.

The closure was delayed until April last year, when the council sent out a letter confirming its intention to shut the centre.

This sparked a petition by carers Amanda Guest and Lisa Stead, which gathered more than 2,000 signatures.

The pair led a prolonged campaign to save the centre, even marching through the streets of Southampton in protest at the decision.

Service users also showered Labour cabinet members with fake money following a debate at full council.