Don’t waste council taxpayers’ money fighting legal action against closure of Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre, say campaigners
News | Niall Griffiths - Local Democracy Reporting Service | Published: 19:07, Monday May 20th, 2019.
Last updated: 19:15, Monday May 20th, 2019
Taxpayers money should not be wasted battling a legal challenge to the closure of Pontllanfraith leisure centre, according to campaigners and an MP.
Shane Williams, a long-time user of the leisure centre, is leading the fight to keep it open for its users, the wider community and “generations to come”.
The High Court has blocked the council’s plans to close the centre by June 30, until Mr Williams’ case is heard – which is scheduled for June 19.
Mr Williams said: “We’ve had protests, marches and a petition signed by more than 5,000 people but the council have refused to listen.
“They now have a chance to finally listen and realise that instead of spending taxpayers’ money fighting to close the facility, they would be better served putting it towards keeping it open.
“This challenge is not about just a few people who play badminton, tennis or netball – it’s about protecting this facility for those who use it now and those who will in the generations to come.”
Solicitors Watkins and Gunn tabled the legal challenge on Mr Williams’ behalf, with the law firm expressing “serious concerns” about the council’s decision-making process.
The firm had sought a judicial review, but the council decided to press ahead and in April made the decision to close the leisure centre. This led to the High Court order which reads: “Until the hearing or further order the Defendant shall not take any formal irreversible steps to close the Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre.”
The council’s regeneration and environment committee had voted against the closure and supported a motion which called for all councillors to get a final say on the decision.
But cabinet members, who had previously sought to close Pontllanfraith leisure centre last year, approved the plans last month as part of a ten-year sports and active recreation strategy.
Mr Williams said: “Not only have they ignored the wishes of the community, but they’ve also ignored their own councillors.
“This strategy is supposed to be over ten years, but the cabinet seem determined to close Pontllanfraith, as that’s the first thing they’ve tried to do.”
The intervention has been welcomed by Islwyn MP Chris Evans, a long-time supporter of the campaign and critic of the proposals brought by his Labour contemporaries at Caerphilly council.
Mr Evans, who marched alongside Lords Kinnock and Touhig during a protest last year, said Mr Williams’ challenge was not a surprise “given the strength of feeling” over the closure.
“The community have made it clear time and time again they will not give up without a fight, and this court hearing shows that they mean business,” he added.
“It is a shame it has come to this, but I am so proud of this community.
“I just hope the cabinet will see this as a wakeup call and reverse their decision rather than waste more taxpayers’ money fighting it.”
Caerphilly County Borough Council said the court’s temporary ruling has been noted, with the authority planning to make “appropriate representations” at the hearing.