The interim leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council, Cllr Barbara Jones, has announced that plans to close Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre are to be put on hold.
Cllr Jones, who took over as leader on an interim basis after the resignation of Cllr Dave Poole, said: “We are listening and responding to our community and the cabinet wants to reflect on key issues going forward, such as the future of Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre.
“We are aware of the strength of feeling in the community and we want to respond positively to these concerns, therefore we are recommending that the closure plans are put on hold while we consider how the facility fits within our wider ‘place shaping’ agenda for the county borough.
Cllr Jones added: “We recognise that budgets are shrinking and that the council needs to transform the way it delivers services, but we are here to serve the community first and we must not lose sight of this fact.
“We now need time to reflect and consider a new way forward and we would like to give an assurance to the community that we will do this with you.
“We will launch our exciting and ambitious transformation plans under the heading of ‘Team Caerphilly’ in the New Year.”
Islwyn AM Rhianon Passmore said she was “gladdened” by the news.
Ms Passmore AM said: “Interim council leader Cllr Barbara Jones and her cabinet have made a courageous decision and common sense has prevailed.
“I have long called for the proposed decision to close Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre to be halted and the whole approach to leisure services reviewed.
“The public clearly value Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre and, even with the financial challenges presented by the savaging of local authority budgets caused by the UK Tory Government’s actions, the council must work with the local community to provide quality leisure provision.
“I congratulate the work of local Labour activists and campaigners along with the Labour-run council for the determination they have shown to start to build a consensus for a way forward.”
Chris Evans, MP for Islwyn, wrote on Twitter that the announcement was “good news.”
“Let’s hope this is the start of a permanent rethink of the borough’s leisure strategy,” Mr Evans added.
The council’s Plaid Cymru group leader, Cllr Colin Mann, said: “I welcome the decision to put on hold the closure of Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre. It is pleasing that the cabinet has finally seen the light and is listening to the community but it needs to go further and confirm the centre will remain open permanently.
“I also want the council confirm that it has dropped all legal action to appeal the original court decision.
“Perhaps, if the cabinet is in listening mode it would now like to revisit the issue of switching street lights off in the early hours and the closure of public toilets. These cuts discriminate against ordinary members of the public to whom we should be providing proper services.”
Independent group leader, Cllr Kevin Etheridge, said that “campaigners should be praised” and that he was “so pleased that common sense has prevailed and the proposal has been put on hold”.
Pontllanfraith councillor Gez Kirby welcomed the “belated decision” and called on the cabinet to “guarantee the long-term future of our centre.”
Shane Williams, who took the case to the High Court, welcomed the “unexpected” news, but said campaigners want to see a “complete stop” to plans to close the leisure centre.
“We are encouraged by the statement from the interim leader, which seems to suggest they are going to change approach, but still a bit concerned given the use of the word ‘deferred’,” Mr Williams said.
“What we want to see is a new approach to safeguard its long-term future.”
Additional reporting from the Local Democracy Reporting Service.