Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre closure plans rejected by councillors
News | Niall Griffiths - Local Democracy Reporting Service | Published: 09:20, Thursday March 28th, 2019.
Plans to close Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre have failed to gain the support of councillors ahead of a crunch vote next month.
A motion to close the facility by June failed to gain the support of the regeneration and environment scrutiny committee on Tuesday.
The decision prompted jubilation amongst around 20 campaigners who attended the meeting, but the council’s cabinet will still have the final say on April 10.
Senior councillors already agreed to a 10-year sports and active recreations strategy that focuses on providing leisure services from four centres – leaving six with uncertain futures.
The committee was urged by resident Joanne Taylor, representing the Save Cefn Fforest and Pontllanfraith Leisure Centres campaign, to vote against the recommendation and “be a rainbow amongst very dark clouds”.
Ms Taylor said: “Closing Pontllanfraith would create a loss of identity and could be devastating.
“You have budget constraints but if you move services elsewhere and remove them from a particular area, you’re causing headaches for future generations.”
Independent councillor Kevin Etheridge disputed claims that Blackwood Comprehensive School had agreed to accept the transfer of block bookings from Pontllanfraith.
But the meeting heard that a legally binding agreement had been signed which said community use would be allocated based on council polices in operation at the time.
Rob Hartshorn, head of public protection, said ongoing running costs meant the was unable to keep all its facilities open.
Mr Hartshorn said: “We can’t carry on as we are, having the most facilities in Wales, and instead of waving the white flag we have come up with a new approach to continue delivering these services.”
Plaid Cymru councillor Colin Elsbury suggested that making savings elsewhere, like scrapping the council’s newsletter Newsline, and raising membership costs slightly could help.
But Mr Hartshorn said this would not address outstanding repair costs, adding that questions of savings were for members not officers.
Councillors also criticised officers for recommending alternative leisure provision in the area that were either more expensive, or had less facilities, than Pontllanfraith lesisure centre.
No third party had offered to take over the running of Pontllanfraith, though the council has not actively marketed the site.
The proposal to close Pontllanfraith is partially based on visitor figures, with 70,841 people visiting the centre last year compared to the 200,000-plus required of strategic sites.
But Labour councillor Tom Williams asked why Heolddu was being considered as the strategic site to serve the Bargoed and Aberbargoed areas when it drew in 97,000 visitors.
He said: “Heolddu is old, dilapidated and its sports hall is not fit for purpose. How many millions that we don’t have is it going to cost to make that high class?”
Independent councillor Graham Simmonds said Blackwood had a higher population than Newbridge, which is retaining its leisure centre, and that it will grow further with thousands of homes being built, or due to be built, in the area.
Cllr Simmonds said: “We’re inviting people to live in our borough then shutting down facilities.