Councillors yesterday voted in favour of the closure and demolition of Plas Madoc Leisure Centre. (UPDATED!)
Plas Madoc’s closure is one that has been highly debated by the public and Councillors since proposals of its closure were first announced last year.
Initially proposals were due to go before the Executive Board in January, however due to the enormity of the subject, public consultation was extended and the decision deferred.
During the meeting, Head of Community Wellbeing & Development, Lawrence Isted said the Council had received a significant number of letters and emails against the proposals; along with 2000 participants taking part in a survey conducted on the Council website. Some Councillors also admitted that they had also personally received a number of comments / emails from people regarding Plas Madoc.
Cllr Mark Pritchard said: “We as an authority cannot keep subsidising a facility which costs when someone walks through the door. It is madness, we cannot continue to do that. We need to be mindful that if the money does not come from Plas Madoc, it would have to come from elsewhere. It could be a country park, bowling greens or other leisure facilities.
“The only difficulty we have this year is that we did not have our final settlement until October. We are under exceptional circumstances here, we are going to lose staff. Some services we have, we will not be able to deliver them any more.”
After a three-hour long debate the Executive Board voted in favour of the recommendations with seven members of the Board voting in favour of the closure and demolition of the leisure centre. The recommendations were also amended to extend the demolition period to June, to allow time for a Social Enterprise group to take over the centre. This was along with potentially transferring some facilities to the Ebenezer Chapel.
Council Leader Neil Rogers, Cllr Mark Pritchard, Cllr Bob Dutton, Cllr Michael Williams, Cllr David Griffiths, Cllr Hugh Jones and Cllr Malcolm King voted in favour of the proposals.
Cllr David. A Bithell and Cllr Joan Lowe voted against the recommendations.
An alternative recommendation was proposed by Cllr Bithell to defer the decision. This recommendation was seconded and supported by Cllr Lowe, but was voted against by the other seven members of the Board.
Given the scale of the decision, the meeting itself unsurprisingly resulted in a large public turnout, with the public gallery packed with supporters for Plas Madoc. Outside protesters gathered to show their support for the leisure centre, holding signs with the slogans: “Obesity On The Rise If Plas Madoc Dies’ and ‘Cut The Mayor, Not Our Leisure Services’.
Starting the meeting, Chairman Cllr Rogers welcomed members of the public to the meeting, adding: “We want you to listen to the debate and the responses. We are asking you all to conduct yourselves in a proper manner, including Councillors.”
Cllr Griffiths said: “You will be aware that I extended the consultation to the end of January as we had a strong response. Leisure services provide invaluable service to the community, however they cost the council £1.8m a year.
“I want to make sure the community have the chance to access a range of facilities in the area, however the Council have to find substantial savings. All services are being reviewed in order to make savings and we need to identify those that are beyond their requirements.
“We need to make decisions now and I’m recommending the way forward would be to invest in a replacement facility.”
During the meeting it was announced that each visit to Plas Madoc is subsidised by the Council or tax payers at a cost of £2.49, which is more than the national average.
A spokesman for the Sports Consultancy said: “We have reviewed 16 options, which ranged from closing both Waterworld and Plas Madoc, to rebuilding both centres. The best option would be to close both. Our recommendation is for a new state of the art centre for all of Wrexham.
“The reasons are the building is 40 years old and in poor condition. If the Council do nothing or defer this decision, this cost will mount annually.
“There is no prospect of Plas Madoc making significant improvements to their financial performance. Only by closing Plas Madoc can the state of the art facility be provided.”
Questions were raised by public speakers regarding the repercussions closing the centre down could have on health and obesity, with speakers pointing out the increase in obesity in Wrexham.
Cllr David Taylor said: “Unless I am missing something, Wrexham Council have no such strategy on leisure. Leisure participation improves health, tackles obesity, cancer and other such medical problems. What work has been done to market this facility to the tourism sector?”
Victoria Milner, who was supporting Plas Madoc pointed out that leisure facilities are a ‘integral and important service that benefit the community’. Miss Milner also pointed out the disability friendly nature of Plas Madoc and that many people with disabilities in Wrexham use the facility, before querying why a new facility can’t be built-in the area.
Mr Isted said: “Members have a choice between different alternatives. We don’t have the money to build two new facilities, it is whether we have a state of an art facility that serves the County Borough, or two low-grade facilities.
“If there is one major facility, where would you put it? The Sports Consultancy have said to build it in a location with the maximum usage.”
One speaker, Alison Roberts said: “I suggest there has been a deliberate effort to run Plas Madoc down. Why haven’t proactive steps been made to improve it before now? It’s apparent you have raced to closure.
“Many users of Plas Madoc would accept an increase in membership fees for revenue. What about changes to managing and marketing? There are so many options that have not been explored. Justify this given the health, social and economic pressures for the people who live there.”
Mr Isted said: “If you look at the bottom line, last year the centre made a loss of £700k and this year £500k. That is a substantial improvement due to some of the things you have listed. If we invest more in a building that is 40 years old and past its design, eventually we will close this building and we will not have any money to rebuild either.”
Concerns were also raised about the use of Sports Consultants, with Plas Madoc supporter, Darryl Wright asking why his request for an independent and intrusive survey had not received a reply.
Mr Wright said: “I have here a petition of 5000 signatures. The Centre staff I know have been keeping a record of numbers and they differ to those from the consultancy. If we have so much faith in the sports consultancy’s dubious report, why when I asked two weeks ago if an independent and intrusive survey, have I not had a reply to that?”
Mr Isted said: “An independent and intrusive survey would be costly. We would have to close the building and use the income to achieve it. The building is losing over £45k a month in income.
“The building will continue to deteriorate, members have to make a decision today. It is not a matter of letting an individual go in, we would have to have a team. It is not a small task.”
In what turned out to be a heated few moments, Mr Wright said: “Why don’t I have a reply? That’s one thing with this Council, there’s no reply.”
Cllr Griffiths said: “I have replied to you twice. People have had replies, but I will not reply to any bullying, threatening emails on this planet.”
Mr Wright said: “He’s accusing me of abusive emails. You’re just a dictatorship here and I do not want to know. Now I know what it was like living under Stalin.”
Members of the public gallery applauded this statement, however Cllr Rogers reminded people of his earlier message and threatened to adjourn the meeting if there was any more disruption.
Throughout the meeting a number of concerns were raised by Councillors, including the risk of over capacity in alternative leisure facilities, transport issues, children missing out on a potentially live saving skill and the implications losing the centre could have on the surrounding area.
One Councillor said that Wrexham is being ‘raped of facilities’ and queried why Wrexham couldn’t have two smaller facilities based at the Waterworld and Plas Madoc sites.
Cllr Derek Wright said: “I am afraid if this proposal goes ahead then we have the risk of being to town centre focused to the detriment of the aligning villages. There are no facilities there and I really ask the Executive Board to consider the decision. Many of the villages outside Wrexham use Plas Madoc, including Rhos, Trevor and Legacy. Surely we have got to look after this outlying villages.”
Cllr Michael Morris said: “This is just one strand in a very complicated process. The stark reality of whatever we do here is there is a £500k loss. If we are looking at a revised budget of a 1% increase to save the one facility, it opens the budget up to debate again.”
A number of alternatives to the closure of Plas Madoc were proposed by Council members, including the building of smaller facilities, transferring to a trust and a 1% increase of Council Tax.
With the closure of Plas Madoc and eventually Waterworld, it has been proposed that a replacement facility is built-in the town centre. This would include a County standard 25m eight lane pool, along with a learner pool and potential leisure pool.
Speaking about the proposed development, Cllr William Baldwin said: “If Plas Madoc closes, is it guaranteed we will build a new pool?”
Mr Isted said: “No nothing is absolutely guaranteed, if you accept recommendations here, then that is one way to finance it. The consultants have provided you with a path to achieve it.
“In saying it is not guaranteed, I am not saying it is a pipe dream. Consultants have undertaken a rigorous investigation. This is your only chance of replacing / losing of Plas Madoc and Waterworld and replacing it with something else.”
Reference was also briefly made to the future cuts that will be made as result of the current reshaping of services. Cllr King said: “Closing Plas Madoc is a thoroughly bad idea and it has huge affection in my heart. When I vote to support it, it will be with bitter regret. It is not about if it is a good place or not, it is about money and we need to make cuts.
“I wish it was as small as £45m. It won’t be the next five years, it will be the next 10 at least. We got here through a financial crisis in 2008 and are left with picking up the pieces. Where we are is a pretty awful place. I have no doubt marketing would make a difference, but would it make sufficient difference, a lot of the things we could do have already been done.
“For me what it boils down to is that Wrexham cannot afford two major swimming pools that cost a lot of money. That view is strengthened by a meeting on Monday when looked at savings for 15/16. They turn your stomach. Unless we do this, there won’t be any money to spend on any leisure, or roads etc by 2020.”
Cllr A. Bithell said: “I know it is difficult and the bottom line is the cuts are coming. But it is Wrexham that decides what to do, and we decide what we close and what we don’t run.
“There is reference to closing it a few years ago, and we didn’t. It is not in poor condition, there might be issues and might not be run right, but it is not in bad condition.
“I’m 49 and not past my sell-by date. How many other buildings have we got that are beyond 40 years, like the Guildhall. There will never be enough money, can only spend what you’ve got.”
The final vote itself did not quite follow standard procedure, with members of the public leaving and shouting their views before the full ‘In favour’ count could be called out. Comments from the public gallery included:
– “We need a leisure centre, not a Mayor”
– “You cut from the bottom every time, cut from the top”
– “Taxi for Rogers”
– “Shame on you, you’re too old, we need new blood”
– “Wait for the elections”
– “It’s despicable. You’re a disgrace, the lot of you”
The Proposals to close Plas Madoc, plus other proposals in the report, will go before the Full Council on February 26th for the final rubber stamp.
We are aware that this is quite a chunky report due to the nature of the topic. We should note that Wrexham.com did put a request in to film the meeting which could have been a better medium. However this request was turned down.
We also live tweeted the meeting and would like to thank all who responded there, on Facebook and on Wrexham.com