The attempt to revisit the decision to close Plas Madoc by ‘call in’ succeeded today in a meeting at the Guildhall pushing it back by a month.
Today’s Scrutiny Committee voted unanimously in favour of sending the decision to close Plas Madoc Leisure Centre back to the Executive Board after Councillors agreed more time and consideration was required in finding a Leisure Trust that could operate the centre.
As with previous meetings for Plas Madoc, the public gallery was packed with supporters for the centre, along with signs and banners outside protesting against the cuts / proposed closure.
During the meeting Head of Community Wellbeing & Development, Lawrence Isted said: “I understand the emotion, but what is at risk here is losing both facilities and not having a strategy. In this era replacing both is impossible.”
A 14 page report presented (viewable here) gave several points of argument to why the co-signatories of the call in believed the initial decision by the Executive Board was flawed. After a debate the scrutiny committee decided that the Executive Board decision would not be upheld, and the decision needs further examination and another vote by the Executive Board next month.
Cllr Taylor presented a shortened version of a report, after initial query was made if it was ‘in time’ due to it being circulated late last night. Rules are that it should be at least two days before, with the Chair allowing a brief presentation which still ran for around 45 minutes.
Wrexham Council’s Chief Executive, the Council Leader, the Deputy Leader and Mayor also attended the meeting, with the public gallery full. What was also interesting is the attendance, perhaps not entirely knowingly, by several younger members of Wrexham’s society to perhaps their first ever council meeting.
Within the points, Cllr Taylor raised issues including the effect closing the centre would have on the health and well-being of those who use it, the rationale behind the decision to close Plas Madoc, the number of people with disabilities who use the facility and the lack of consideration and time that has been given in finding a possible trust to take over Plas Madoc.
Cllr Taylor said: “Plas Madoc provides a haven where children are safe and can have fun. Where will this energy be dispersed?”
Replying to the 14 points, Lead Member for Health and Adult Social Care, Cllr David Griffiths said: “Nothing has been thrown upon you, this Leisure Review started in the year 2000. When you say that this have been thrown upon you, I refute that.”
Cllr Griffiths later added: “There is a chance for a County wide facility would be missed if we do not take this opportunity. The Council is in between a rock and a hard place.”
Cllr Griffiths also stated that he would be happy to extend the closure period until April and essentially ‘mothball’ it until October. However it was also pointed out that the longer the centre remains open, it is running at a loss.
One mystery of the meeting surrounded a letter that was reportedly from the Health Board, which allegedly contains content from a Doctor on the Board going against the proposed closure.
Replying to this, Cllr Griffiths pointed out that he had contacted the Health Board who said that he had spoken to the Board, who have no idea of the content within the letter and are ‘concerned’ as to where it has come from as it is ‘not the reflection of the local health board.”
Cllr Griffiths said: “I want to reiterate the view from the Health Board is not from the Board. They’re at a loss as to where the words have come from.”
At times the meeting got heated, with members of the public calling out to Councillors to turn their microphones up, along with comments calling the meeting ‘comical’ and ‘rubbish’, along with one member of the gallery stating the Cllr Griffiths was not telling the truth.
Chairman Cllr Steve Wilson reminded both the public and Councillors of the ‘decorum’ of the meeting and said that if any further disruption was caused then he would have to ask those causing the disturbance to leave. However shortly after this occurred, a security guard was present for the duration of the meeting.
One suggestion raised what that the centre was run at reduced opening times, with Plas Madoc opening at peak times to maximise it, rather than open a 9am where perhaps only a few people use the facility.
Speaking of the April / October time frame, Cllr Michael Morris said: “If the report goes back to the Board, my view of the six month gap is that it is too long when it’s out of commission. The Executive Board should be looking at extending the closure.”
Mr Isted pointed out that there are ‘enormous costs’ with keeping the facility open a day beyond the point of closure. Cllr Griffiths added that an extra £200k in funds would have to be found to keep it open.
After the discussion had concluded, Councillors voted to send the decision to close Plas Madoc to the Executive Board, who will then make the final decision on the facility.
The ‘last resort’ was to be this evening at a meeting of the Full Council where in theory the overall budget could be rejected, therefore spending decisions, such as the closure of Plas Madoc, could be revisited. Due to today’s meeting decision the significance of tonight’s meeting in terms of Plas Madoc has diminished somewhat, despite it containing reduced budgets all round which will impact the council’s involvement in the centre.
The motion to move the decision back to the Executive Board means that the decision will be retaken at a later date.
UPDATE: As many predicted the Full Council approved the draft budget, meaning there is a bizzare situation where funding for Plas Madoc may not exist regardless of the Executive Board vote. However it is possible that closure could be avoided if the centre is given to a third party to run, with deadlines possibly being extended to October 1st. The original budget proposals were agreed to by 31 to 15, with four abstentions in the full council meeting.
This meeting was also a historic first for Wrexham Council, allowing video to be taken and rebroadcast outside the meeting of business.
This follows persistent requests by Wrexham.com , and we will chalk this up as another success alongside our victory to allow tweeting! We just need access to the Council’s WIFI , or 3G piggybacking, to allow us to uStream the meetings direct. Plus we will be upping our hardware to allow better videos, as we were half expecting a no again today.
Many thanks to forward-looking Chairman Steve Wilson who said he had ‘no problem’ with the recording of video in the meeting. We hope to have the video embedded ASAP!)
Below you can see our live tweets from the meeting: