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Future of eyesore leisure centre remains uncertain

08 Jan 2024 3 minute read
Underwood Leisure Centre in Newport. Photo via Google

Nicholas Thomas, local democracy reporter

The future of a former leisure centre, which had been used as a cannabis factory, remains unclear, amid concerns the disused building has become “a blot on the landscape.”

Underwood Leisure Centre outside Newport closed down a decade ago and the site is now privately owned, but a series of applications to convert it into a community centre have failed to win the backing of council planners.

Criminal activity

The building has also fallen foul to “unauthorised” criminal activity, and police busted an illegal cannabis growing operation there in 2014.

Ten years after the centre closed down, ward councillor Ray Mogford has raised fresh concerns over the condition of the building and whether anything can be done to prevent its decline.

“After all this time, is the council aware of any plans to bring it back into commercial use in any shape of form?” he asked Newport City Council. “If not, is the council in a position to enforce any degree of maintenance to this building which is now nothing but a hazard, an eyesore, and blot on the landscape?”

Cllr Mogford also asked what powers the council had “to address any concerns raised regarding this building”.

James Clarke, the cabinet member for planning, said “the council does not own this property and does not condone any illegal use of the property”.

Planning applications

He confirmed there had been “a number of planning applications submitted by the landowner, the latest of which was refused”.

That application, in 2019, was to convert Underwood Leisure Centre into a “mixed use community and conference facility” with “ancillary residential suites and caretaker accommodation”.

In documents at the time, an agent writing on behalf of the owner said the facility was once considered “one of the best leisure centres in the area” and was reportedly “one of the first… to be constructed in Wales”.

In 2014, a year after its closure, police discovered thousands of cannabis plants being grown there, in an “unauthorised use” of the site as “one of the largest cannabis factories in Gwent”, the agent added.

Underwood Leisure Centre has suffered “considerable vandalism” since its closure, and the agent claimed the proposed community centre would have breathed “new life” into the building and provided “new facilities for the local community”.

But council planners rejected the application because of flood risk concerns.

Following Cllr Mogford’s question, Cllr Clarke confirmed the council had powers “to take action” at buildings “considered dangerous”.

“As such, I have asked officers to visit the site and explore if any action should be taken under these regulations,” he said.

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