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Council facing new legal challenge over plan to close leisure centre

03 Jul 2024 3 minute read
Save Our Leisure Centre campaigners

Nicholas Thomas, local democracy reporter

Judges could decide the future of a leisure centre for a second time, after a fresh legal challenge over its proposed closure was announced.

Earlier this year, Caerphilly County Borough Council decided the Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre will close and be demolished, owing to an expensive maintenance backlog and the construction of new facilities elsewhere.

Prolonged local resistance to the plans was ultimately not enough to persuade senior councillors to save the leisure centre, but now the council’s decision could go under the legal microscope.

Regular user

Watkins and Gunn Solicitors announced on Tuesday July 2 that a “long-time regular user” of the leisure centre is challenging the council’s decision to shut the facility.

Among the grounds for challenge is the claim that Caerphilly Council’s leader, “having said publicly [in comments to Caerphilly Observer] that it would be ‘insanity’ to keep the leisure centre open, actually or apparently pre-determined the decision to close the leisure centre and should have recused himself from the cabinet decision-making process”, Watkins and Gunn said.

Other grounds for the challenge include claims involving equalities law and Wales’ future generations legislation.

“Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre is a well-used facility at the centre of the community,” said Watkins and Gunn solicitor Lucy O’Brien.

“The views of that community, put forward by our client and the campaigners, have been ignored by Caerphilly Council from the outset and throughout the consultation process.

“Since the closure, many of the users of Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre have been provided with no alternative facilities to continue their sporting and leisure activities.”

This new legal challenge marks the second time the council has faced court action over the proposed closure of the leisure centre.

High Court

In 2019, the High Court quashed a previous attempt to shut down the Pontllanfraith facility because of “insufficient evidence that cabinet had properly discharged its duty under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010”, according to a council report.

The leisure centre was effectively mothballed shortly after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, serving for part of that time as a mass vaccination centre.

The council has argued a maintenance backlog of half a million pounds, combined with the construction of sports facilities in the new Centre for Vulnerable Learners next door, justifies the decision to shut down and raze the leisure centre, despite local opposition.

But those arguments are now set for legal scrutiny.

“The court will now once again decide whether or not the decision to close the centre was made lawfully,” Ms O’Brien said. “Our client and the campaigners are hopeful that the court will recognise what a crucial facility it is and make a decision that will enable the centre to remain open and be enjoyed by future generations.”

Caerphilly Council has been contacted for comment.

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