Public petition fails as facilities still in doubt

By Kerenza Moore   |   Head of Content   |
Monday 6th December 2021 7:00 am
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Protestors outside County Hall yesterday as Cornwall’s leisure centres were debated ()

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CORNISH people were urged by the councillor in charge of leisure to sign up to become members of their local centres and help ‘solve the issue’ of whether facilities will have to close.

An attempt to enable all 87 councillors to have a vote on the future of Cornwall’s leisure centres failed yesterday at the full Cornwall Council meeting, as a petition, signed by more than 5,000 people, was noted by the council with no further action to be taken.

Council chairman Pauline Giles reiterated that the action requested in the petition — to defer a decision on the closure of leisure centres to full council — would be illegal, as such a decision must be made by Cornwall Council’s Cabinet.

The Cabinet is due to make a decision on the Saltash, Launceston, Wadebridge and Falmouth centres and the hydrotherapy pool at St Austell on December 15.

A debate of 15 minutes around the petition was allowed, with five minute speeches from group leaders from all the political parties.

Cllr Hannaford for the Lib Dems argued that any decision on leisure should not be based solely on financial factors. Health and wellbeing, climate, children’s rights and equality of access and opportunities should also be among the criteria used, she said.

Mebyon Kernow and Green Group leader Dick Cole acknowledged the financial difficulties faced by the council and agreed with Cllr Hannaford that the issue was one of underfunding of local government. He urged all councillors to put pressure on MPs — and urged the council leaders to rule out any leisure centre closures — as well as closures of outdoor education centres.

During answers to public questions at the start of the meeting, Cllr Andy Virr, portfolio holder for health, had said that leisure centres do play an important role in the health and wellbeing of residents but that other, free resources such as cycle trails, beaches and parks were also part of the resources available.

Referring back to this, Labour group leader Jayne Kirkham asked if Cornish schoolchildren would be able to learn to swim in duckponds. She said that the “obvious answer” was for Cornwall Council, like Plymouth and Exeter, to take the leisure centres back under local authority control.

Cllr Richard Pears, portfolio holder for leisure services, speaking for the Conservatives, said that the leisure centre issue “had been politicised and mischaracterised”.

“No-one wants to close a leisure centre,” he said. “The entire reason for this consultation is that we are fighting hard to save leisure centres, and working with communities to find a way forward.”

Nine groups had come forward with expressions of interest on running the four threatened centres, he said, and the council was meeting with these groups to clarify the detail of their plans.

Reiterating that leisure centres around the UK were struggling, he said that GLL were currently offering swimming membership at £1 a day.

“If just half the people who signed the petition joined their leisure centre as members, we could stop this consultation right now.”

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