Cans were kicked and old ground was covered again in today’s Plas Madoc discussion, with no real debate in a last stand to avoid closure.
The Executive Board today voted in favour of closing Plas Madoc at the end of April. This would mean the demolition of the centre would take place from October 2nd if it is not taken over by a Community Trust or Social Enterprise.
There was one vote against the decision from Cllr Joan Lowe.
In what was described as an ‘emotive’ subject, Plas Madoc has been a topic that had been highly debated for the past few months, and those following our coverage will be aware that despite the large amount of debate there has been little deviation from Council produced recommendations.
Back in November 2013 we reported that a consultation regarding the then rumoured closure of the leisure centre had begun. Since then 14 reports have been published on our website regarding the Plas Madoc consultation through to the meeting reports from both the Executive Board, Scrutiny Committees, Full Council and like today back to the Executive Board.
Since the announcement of Plas Madoc’s closure and subsequent demolition, a group called ‘Save Plas Madoc Leisure Centre’ has been created and at the time of writing this report there are 3,790 members of the groups Facebook page.
As with previous meeting the public gallery was full of supporters for the leisure centre and likewise there was a noisy protest outside. However unlike previous meetings two police officers were present and left when the Plas Madoc ‘debate’ was over. We’re assuming this is because things got a bit heated in the recent Call In meeting. On this point a forum thread has already been started to enquire if this has cost money, as policing inside the Racecourse costs Wrexham FC money – more on that here.
At a recent Call In meeting, the Scrutiny Committee recommended that the date of closure was pushed back to July to allow time for a Social Enterprise or Community Trust group to be established.
Today’s meeting was in relation to the Call In meeting that took place two weeks ago and Councillors were reminded this was the case. Despite this throughout the meeting there seemed to be some confusion as to what the meeting was actually about. Often questions and answers that had been discussed before were repeated along with some Councillors asking for more time yet again.
The meeting itself felt less a debate and more of going round in circles on points that have already been discussed in previous meetings, with no real new answers to new questions posed, with time being filled before the actual vote.
One Councillor said: “I think we are wasting our time you have already made your decision.”
Demolition costs were queried, as they were stated at £300,000, with an idea of that money to be spent to keep Plas Madoc open ‘rather than reduce it to rubble’. It emerged that the costs to demolish the centre will be raised by the savings made when it is closed.
Throughout the meeting, reference was made to the Council ‘reserve funds’, with some Councillors querying as to why money can’t be taken from the reserves. Although one Cllr did point out that if the Full Council had made amendments to the budget a few weeks ago, ‘we wouldn’t be here today asking to find the money’.
Cllr Joan Lowe said: “I feel today is another chapter of the Plas Madoc saga. We have a budget of £300k in our winter maintenance reserve. We’re only asking for a small amount of money, it would make such a difference to the Community Trust to help them get off the ground.
“I urge you to think and really try and do something. We are taking leisure facilities away from our community and our residents. I think this is a crying shame.”
Cllr Dana Davies and Paul Blackwell were particularly vocal in today’s meeting, however in recent weeks the two councillors have been subject to direct criticism by some Plas Madoc supporters due to their decision to abstain in the recent budget vote by the Full Council..
There has been some debate and speculation regarding what would happen to the land when Plas Madoc is demolished and if there had been any discussions about what would happen once the land was sold.
Cllr Baldwin asked if any discussions had already taken place with developers regards to the land or if there is any idea on what would be built there. Interestingly a question was posed asking if potential purchase of houses could take place to ‘open up the site’ for development.
Mr Isted replied: “It would most likely use for the site would be residential, but we have not had any discussions. The value of the land is not great.”
A smaller replacement centre has been mooted, to be paid for by savings being made via the closure. Today a titbit of detail was revealed which indicates no new smaller centre would be created, however there would be ‘investment’ in existing facilities in the area.
A vote on the recommendations finally took place, with all apart from Cllr Lowe on the Executive Board voting for it.
This means that there is a very short period of time for a trust to form and take over the running of Plas Madoc, with no extra funding nor time to help that occur.
If that take over is not viable then the centre will close for ‘mothballing’, and if no solution is put in place by October 1st then demolition procedures will start from October 2nd.
The meeting ended with a few slow sarcastic hand claps from members of the public as they were leaving, along with comments including ‘sleep well tonight’ targeted at the Executive Board.
The police also left the meeting at that point, so we believe they were called as security for just that agenda item, a first that we have witnessed at the Guildhall.
Our live tweets from the meeting are archived below: