Caerphilly County Borough Council will press ahead with plans to close Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre despite a High Court judge halting its immediate closure.
The leisure centre had been due to close its doors at the end of this month, but campaigners took legal action in their fight to save it and won.
At a hearing in Cardiff yesterday (Monday, June 24), Mr Justice Jonathan Swift ruled that the council had not carried out a proper Equalities Impact Assessment for its Sport and Leisure Strategy.
The ten-year plan would see leisure centres in New Tredegar, Ystrad Mynach and Cefn Fforest, as well as Pontllanfraith, close their doors, with centres in Caerphilly town, Risca, Newbridge and either Bargoed or Aberbargoed remaining open.
The judge ruled that while the council’s decision to accept the overall strategy was lawful, it had fallen short under the terms of the Equality Act 2010.
Council leader Dave Poole said: “We note the decision of the High Court and the Judgement that the decision to adopt the Sport and Active Recreation Strategy is sound and robust.
“We also note the Judge’s ruling in relation to Cabinet’s approach to compliance with its Equality Duty, and we will take steps to ensure that the correct procedures are followed in relation to future decisions by cabinet where there are equalities implications.”
Campaigner Shane Williams, who brought the legal action, said: “We’re delighted that the judge has quashed cabinet’s decision to close the leisure centre.
“We have made representations to the council for several years now. Pontllanfraith has always been one of the best used leisure centres.
“I couldn’t believe the council’s plan to bulldoze it. Despite making representations to cabinet, they seemed determined.
“We had no other alternative than to take it to court.”
Mr Williams added: “I think there’s every chance the leisure centre could stay open.
“I would like to think the council will finally take note of the community they serve and those who have campaigned to keep the leisure centre open.
“It is a well-served and vital facility and I hope cabinet will seriously think again about closure.
“We would rather the council put this money into keeping the leisure centre open than going to court and using tax payers money to fight it.”
Because the judge ruled that the centre’s closure was unlawful, the council will have to pay half of the campaigners’ legal costs.
Solicitor Lucy O’Brien, from Watkins and Gunn Solicitors, acted on behalf of the campaigners and told Caerphilly Observer: “The council should be spending their money on public services, not court cases.”
Islwyn’s Labour MP Chris Evans, who has been a vocal critic of the closure plans, said: “This is a significant victory for campaigners and I pay tribute to them for their tireless efforts for the whole community.
“This decision shows the cabinet were wrong to close Pontllanfraith leisure centre.
“Serious questions need to be asked why the cabinet thought it was in their remit to make this decision.
“Whether in Westminster, Cardiff or Caerphilly, decisions need full scrutiny not simply nodded through by a small cabal of councillors appointed by the leader.
“Today’s ruling will cost even more money. To a council looking to making savings, the decision of the cabinet was a costly mistake which could have easily been avoided if only they had listened to the views of the community.”