5000 people sign petition to save leisure centre mothballed during Covid-19 pandemic
Nicholas Thomas – Local Democracy Reporter
A petition to save a leisure centre which was mothballed during the pandemic and turned into a Covid-19 vaccination centre has gained over 5000 signatures.
Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre could need at least £120,000 to bring it back into use but Caerphilly County Borough Council’s cabinet member for leisure has warned of severe budget constraints.
The site is currently closed while the former Pontllanfraith Comprehensive School, which is next to the leisure centre, is demolished over the summer to make way for a new Centre for Vulnerable Learners.
The council is yet to guarantee the leisure centre’s future, and is preparing a halfway-point review of its ten-year sports strategy, which will include a public consultation on recreation facilities.
The leisure centre at Pontllanfraith will remain closed at least until that review is over.
Cllr Chris Morgan, council cabinet member for leisure, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the “dormant” centre was facing a three-year maintenance backlog as well as £120,000 of basic work on flooring and equipment.
Bringing Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre back into use would require around £30,000 of renovations to the sports hall and as much as £10,000 to repair the squash courts, as well as investing in fitness equipment worth up to £80,000 for the centre’s gym.
Compounding the financial concerns is the issue of footfall at the leisure centre, because “most users have found additional facilities to use” while it was closed, said Cllr Morgan.
A Freedom of Information request revealed Aneurin Bevan University Health Board paid the council £55,777 to use the site as a vaccine centre during the pandemic.
Cllr Morgan said the local authority will “take into account the views of local members and the public via a consultation exercise” on the future of the leisure centre, but “what also has to be taken into account is the £50m budget deficit that we are fighting over the next two years”.
“We must spend our money wisely whilst we transition into a leaner council”, he said, adding that the new Centre for Vulnerable Learners would include a sports hall and 3G pitch facilities “for all”.
Meanwhile, a community campaign – running alongside the petition – has seen “save our leisure centres” banners appear around the county borough, backed by grassroots sports teams and local businesses.
Blackwood independent councillor Kevin Etheridge acknowledged no decision had yet been made, but said “I worry for my community and I fully support the campaigners in their fight” to save the leisure centre.
“Reference is made to budgetary constraints and… costs but in the wider scheme I don’t accept this, when you consider how much is being spent on the council’s transformation agenda”, he added, referring to the Caerphilly 2035 masterplan for the county town.
Cllr Etheridge also complained that a final decision on the leisure centre’s future “will yet be dealt with by the cabinet and exclude full council – unacceptable, I believe, as there are no Blackwood or Pontllanfraith councillors [in the] cabinet”.
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