Secret report proposes closing leisure centres in huge shake-up of services

PHOTO. KEVIN McGUINNESS.
Bamber Bridge Leisure Centre
PHOTO. KEVIN McGUINNESS. Bamber Bridge Leisure Centre
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Leisure centres in South Ribble could be closed down and replaced by a new multi-million pound facility, in a major shake-up of services.

This month a secret report went to the council’s cabinet members and three senior officers, outlining options to close Leyland, Penwortham and Bamber Bridge Leisure Centres –with Leyland, the oldest in the borough, most at risk.

Leyland Leisure Centre

Leyland Leisure Centre

Leisure bosses say the report, dated January 2017, was a working document thrown out in its current state by cabinet members, but options contained within it are still on the table and a re-worked version could be re-presented within months.

The three options in the report seen by the Post are not exhaustive, but we can reveal all three involved closing Leyland Leisure Centre and building a new £14.5m facility around two miles away off Croston Road, Farington Moss.

Leyland Central Coun Derek Forrest expressed concerns. He said: “Leyland Leisure Centre is something very precious, something the town wanted for years and years.

“When I was a child I had to go to Brinscall to learn how to swim, so when we heard news of the leisure centre being built, it was met with great appreciation. I would think that any suggestion of it closing and moving to the Western Parishes out on the Moss, which has poor transport links, would be opposed by every living Leylander.

Penwortham Leisure Centre

Penwortham Leisure Centre

“If the council want to spend money on leisure, then they need to put it back into revamping the current centres.”

Other options being tabled involve the closure of Penwortham and Bamber Bridge Leisure Centres, with users forced to travel much further afield to access facilities.

Bamber Bridge Coun Dave Watts said: “I know people will be very, very upset about this. Bamber Bridge Leisure Centre is a facility well-used by all members of the community.

“We know that the council has this stretch of land in Farington Moss away from everywhere and without good transport links, but when he was asked directly about it four times at the last council meeting, the portfolio holder refused to answer.”

Leader of South Ribble Liberal Democrats and Penwortham Coun David Howarth said: “I asked (the portfolio holder) Coun Phil Smith questions about the future of our lesiure centres and whether any would be closing at a meeting last week and he did not answer.”

He added: “These leisure centres are not only popular, they fulfil an important social need.

“At Penwortham, Heartbeat runs regular sessions for people who have had cardiac problems. Then there’s all the schools who use the leisure centres and pre-schoolers who learn to swim.

“It seems to me that the people who would miss out the most are low-income families who rely on public transport and can’t afford to join commercial gyms.

“I think local people will be very concerned. The last time Penwortham Leisure Centre was threatened with closure, in 2010, there was widespread public support to keep it open.”

Coun Phil Smith, cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration and leisure, said: “As a council, we pride ourselves on being forward thinking and always strive to provide the very best services we can for our residents, while ensuring we offer real value for money.

“We already invest £1m a year into leisure, and as part of our commitment to keeping the people of South Ribble fit and healthy, we continually review our leisure facilities – looking for new ideas on how we could improve and do better. Planning for the future is an important function for the council and one that we relish.

“Just as we are committed to improving the infrastructure of the borough through City Deal, providing leisure services fit for the future is one of our key priorities and one we are absolutely determined to get right. One of our grand visions is the creation of a state-of-the-art leisure centre which would offer some of the very best sporting facilities in the region, but I must stress it is just that – a vision.

“It is one option that has been proposed, and one that would need very careful and well-informed consideration.

“If we get to a point where, as a council, we were looking to pursue it further, it’s certainly not a plan that could evolve overnight and residents, and importantly staff working at our leisure facilities, would be kept fully informed every step of the way and encouraged to have their say.”

The Labour group on South Ribble Council believe the only option being seriously considered is building a new facility and closing Leyland, Bamber Bridge and Penwortham Leisure Centres, though the council says it is considering all options.

Leader Coun Paul Foster said: “We have argued for years that we must do more to support the existing facilities, expand them, refurbish them and improve them, but this all fell on deaf ears.

“We will fight to retain all of our existing facilities in Bamber Bridge, Penwortham and Leyland.

“We must all ensure that these critically important community facilities are not just kept open, but are subject to inward investment to improve them even further.

“They made over £500k profit last year. Enough is enough.

“These closures will not happen, our communities will pull together and fight the Tory administration.”

The proposed site for the new facility was included within a planning agreement for 400 houses in the nearby area, on land owned by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).

As such, the HCA can dictate time scale for development by formally requesting the authority to exercise the option on the land.

The report, dated January 2017, said the council was looking to spend £14.5m on the facility, but costs could change depending on money generated from selling off closed sites. It also said the closure of facilities is likely to be on a phased basis and they would remain open for two years after the new facility has opened.

John Gibson, who runs squash and racketball groups at Leyland Leisure Centre, and is a member of South Ribble Community Leisure Trust, and said he had not been made aware of any proposals being considered.

He said: “We run the only club of its kind in Lancashire with over 60 kids attending each week, and with players going on to represent England and be number one in the country.

“Any disruption to that would be chaos. I’m sure any club using the leisure centres would be concerned, and it’s very important that any proposals or discussions are done openly and we get proper consultation.”