National politicians have expressed concern and disappointment over Caerphilly County Borough Council’s controversial decision to close Pontllanfraith leisure centre.
Cabinet members of the Labour-run authority have come under fire from councillors, MPs and AMs from their own party and others after approving the closure on Wednesday, April 10.
The move was described as “extremely short-sighted” by Islwyn MP Chris Evans, who has opposed the council’s plans from the outset.
Mr Evans said: “It is absolutely amazing that in the face of widespread opposition from the local community, a Labour cabinet has taken the decision to close Pontllanfraith leisure centre.
“Centralising leisure services does not work. Once these well used community facilities are gone they are gone for good.”
The Labour MP was criticised by council leader Dave Poole for protesting the closures during a march through Blackwood last November.
Former Labour leader Lord Kinnock and Lord Touhig, who both served as Islwyn MPs, also marched to save the facility.
Mr Evans added: “I have been proud to stand with the hard working Save Pontllanfraith and Cefn Fforrest Leisure Centres community group.
“Marching with them, alongside hundreds of others, just shows the depth of feeling.”
Islwyn’s AM, Rhianon Passmore, criticised the council for not taking on board the regeneration and environment committee’s opposition to the closure.
A former Labour member of the council, Ms Passmore said: “I am disappointed that the cabinet did not take the opportunity to undertake collaborative wider work with the local community to map out a coherent and understandable presentation of how future leisure services will be accessed.
“I will continue to press the council to improve their communication of how communities in Islwyn will be able to benefit from public leisure services that are fit for the 21st century.”
Pontllanfraith’s closure has also been condemned across the political divide, with Plaid Cymru’s Delyth Jewell looking to raise the issue at the Welsh Assembly.
The South East Wales AM accused the council of “mismanaging” the situation and running a “flawed” consultation that failed to consider the wishes of residents.
Ms Jewell added: “This news will be greeted with great anger by people who feel that Pontllanffraith leisure centre is an essential local facility in terms of community cohesion and public health.”
In response to wider reaction of his cabinet’s decision, Cllr Poole said the authority was not going to shy away from making difficult decisions when “we know it is the right thing to do”.
He said: “None of us want to cut services or close local facilities, but unfortunately this is the reality of the situation we find ourselves in.
“We have the most leisure centres of any council in the whole of Wales and this is simply not sustainable in the current financial climate.
“We have been assured that there is suitable alternative provision in the surrounding area for the current users at Pontllanfraith and this council will make arrangements to transfer all bookings to nearby facilities such as the 3G all weather pitches in Blackwood Comp and Islwyn High School.”