CIVIC chiefs have vowed to forge ahead with plans to save a vital facility that was axed last year despite a huge protest campaign.

Kentish Road Respite Centre will reopen as a charity-run facility under proposals being drawn up by the ruling Labour group on Southampton City Council.

The council leader, Cllr Simon Letts, said he was already in talks with two organisations interested in taking over the site.

Speaking at the authority’s annual budget meeting, Cllr Letts said discussions would focus on the possibility of respite care being provided at weekends.

Kentish Road campaigners spoke at the meeting and urged the council to reinstate the centre, which the Labour group voted to axe last November.

The Conservative and Putting People First groups put forward an amendment to the budget to provide funding to reopen the centre.

The Tories’ proposal included £250,000 to refurbish the building before bringing in an external organisation to run respite care.

But both amendments were voted down by Labour councillors.

The decision to close Kentish Road sparked a 2,000-name petition raised by carers Amanda Guest and Lisa Stead, who led a protest march through the streets of Southampton. Service users also showered Labour councillors with fake money following a heated debate.

But despite the protests the centre was closed as part of a cost-cutting campaign by the authority.

During the budget meeting councillors clashed over Labour’s plan to hike council tax in Southampton by almost six per cent this year.

But the proposal was given the green-light, which means residents in band D properties face an £84 increase in April.

Spearheading a Conservative attack on the proposals, Cllr John Hannides said Labour had overspent by £5 million last year and described their newest budget as “shambolic”.

He added: “You’ve had six years to implement major change that could have saved millions. And yet, six years on, you have failed miserably.”

Cllr Hannides claimed that the Conservatives, who did not submit a budget of their own, would have hiked tax by only three per cent – to cover rising costs in adult social care.

But Labour members defended the budget, which promises £8 million of investment in the city’s roads, street cleaning and green spaces.