Councillors have voted to recommend the closure and demolition of Plas Madoc and Waterworld leisure centres, with a possible replacement facility if and when finance is secure.
As with many of the recent meetings that surround the proposed cuts to local services, the public gallery was full of protestors and members of the public who had come to support their local leisure centre. Prior to the start of the meeting a protest was also gathered outside the Guildhall.
It was revealed in the meeting that the 11 leisure centres in Wrexham cost £1.8million a year to run. While the primary focus of the meeting was on the future of Waterworld and Plas Madoc, it must also be noted that all leisure facilities in the area have were looked at during the process.
Councillor David Griffiths told the meeting that: “No decision have been made, and today is part of the consultation process. The aim today is present the findings of the leisure review by the Sports Consultancy.” Much of the content in the report was highlighted in our preview report that we broke over the weekend.
The meeting began with a small presentation / slideshow from two directors from the Sports Consultancy. The presentation covered a breadth of topics that related to their recommendations for leisure centres in Wrexham. Interestingly it was noted that a ‘visual survey’ had taken place, with no detail of anything further or more in depth.
The ‘visual survey’ focused on eight elements:-
- The physical condition of each of the leisure centres
- Future repairs and maintenance
- Actual usage of the facilities
- Consultation with user groups and stakeholders
- The ongoing cost of operating the facilities
- Location and cachments
- Supply and demand for leisure facilities in the County Borough
- Potential for a new leisure centre
The consultants told the meeting they had looked at 16 different options, which we have not been able to find in the public domain. Details were given of a replacement Waterworld, with the meeting told the new facility in the town centre could have a 8 lane 20m ‘county standard’ pool, a learner pool, spectator seating plus a leisure water area.
Pricing details were passed to the meeting, with information that the Council subsidise £2.50 per head of Plas Madoc use.
The consultants said “Waterworlds performance is better than the others, but constrained by physical constraints of the building, the gym is main revenue generator.” They also commented on the usage of the two leisure centres, with Waterworld accounting for 35% and Plas Madoc having 25% usage.
Chair of the meeting Councillor David Kelly said of the presentation “It’s a lot of data and things for people to consider.”
A request had been made by a member of the public, Daryl Wright, to address the meeting. He said of possible issues getting to a replacement Waterworld “Do you think people who use Plas Madoc, a low income area, will get on a bus, where services are being withdrawn?
“The gentlemen think a new centre will happen, it won’t. Where does this £11.8m come from? Are we going down the road of private funding? We are mortgaging the future of our kids.”
Mr Wright also commented on a recent visit of his to Plas Madoc, where he saw a ‘steady stream’ of people coming into the centre to use the facilities.
Speaking about the comments made by Mr Wright, Cllr Griffiths said: “I want to hear the real stories. It’s the same with a steady stream of people using it, this doesn’t seem to be coming out in the consultation. You do get people in the evening, but it means keeping it in the daytime for people to use it.
“From my personal view I know staff at the centre have worked hard. Sometimes as councillors we don’t see what happens behind the scenes and I thank Mr Wright for what he’s saying.”
Comment was also made on the usage figures given by the consultant, with Mr Wright saying he ‘felt like someone needs to shake the management to put on events and get people in there to do stuff’ and ‘no one at the leisure centre seems to have the initiative to pull people in’.
Mr Wright received a round of applause from the public gallery.
In what turned into quite a heated few minutes, was challenged by a second public speaker about his role and was asked about use of consultants. Mr Griffiths said he was happy to ‘take it on the chin’ and went on to say he was happy to be ‘interrogated’. There were calls from some councillors to stop the ‘interrogation’, and at this point one member of the public shouted ‘we spend millions on consultants, its shocking, shocking’ and ‘get rid of the consultants’. At this point there was consideration to stop the meeting, but it proceeded.
A spokesperson from AVOW told the meeting how there are not many places in the UK where you can visit a beautiful heritage site, have a swim in a top class place and then shop in a top notch shopping centre. She also commented on the facilities that are available at Plas Madoc for those with disabilities.
Cllr Griffiths further welcomed any ideas to raise the money and keep the facilities open, which had another public gallery contribution of ‘get rid of the consultants’. Officers were challenged to give details of the costs of the consultants, however as this is a ‘Part 2′ detail, aka secret, it was not possible to tell the meeting at that point.
Councillor David Taylor said: “The report says the closure is not significant, the amount of people here shows it is significant. It is used by disabled people and those who do not have the money to travel.”
Mr Taylor also made reference to the Olympics which he said ‘was to inspire and encourage the population to be more active’ and asked the meeting ‘are we not achieving our goals and the country’s goals?’
He went on to say “I have had a number of message throughout the weeks, but there’s one message someone sent which hits the spot. Are we there to inspire a generation or to kill it? To close a facility are we not killing that inspiration?”
Councillor Paul Blackwell said of Plas Madoc plans that: “It seems with the cuts taking place that everything is focused on the town centre, if you live outside the town centre people will be stuffed.
“Why not close them down in the town centre? I am opposed to the closure of this facility.”
Cllr Kevin Hughes said “It is obvious from members of public that feelings in the community are at a high. I have to agree with the consultants initially, that to run Plas Madoc and Waterworld in its current form is uneconomical.”
“I cannot agree with the recommendations in the report. I would not like to see all the facilities in Plas Madoc withdrawn. I would like to see a more modest proposal for a new build in the town centre and at Plas Madoc.”
Echoing transport issues raised he added “I would like to add that if the consultants proposal were to go ahead and this new build happened on the crown building site, there will be difficulties with buses being cut and as Wrexham is notoriously difficult to get in and out of by car by putting a new facility in the town, that will make things worse.”
Cllr Graham Rogers said “What we currently have as leisure is concerned is not sustainable and if that means have one central thing in the borough, I can live with that. Concerns have already been raised about traffic, subsidies being removed with buses, parking going up. We need to look for a sensible decision. We cant please everyone.”
The Consultants told the meeting they had looked at four different options at Plas Madoc, first to keep the current pool only which would cost somewhere in the ragion of £2m and would still run at a revenue loss every year.
The second option was to retain the pool and replace the sporthalls element, which would be a revenue loss of £15,000 a year.
The third option was to build a wet and dry leisure centre costing £7m plus a revenue loss each year.
Thus the only affordable solution to them was the closure of Plas Madoc and replacing Waterworld.
Cllr Geoff Lowe carried on the now common theme of the meeting, the cost of consultants, saying he had “A serious concern about the amount of money we spend on consultants.”
“People arent interested in how things are being done by politics, they want to know how they are affected at a local level. We need to protect the local facilities at a local level.”
Cllr Bob Dutton also asked questions of the consultants saying “You did you say you haven’t done an intrusive investigation, I was lead member for 4 years, its not a pleasant building to look at but its structurally sound.”
The meeting was told of Plas Madoc that the main problems with wave machine is it stopped working at Easter, and it took three days to get going and they are ‘not overly confident we can keep it going’.
Cllr Bob Dutton amusingly retorted “It wasn’t working when I took over, and I got it sorted in a week.”
The report considered today, including the slides from the consultants, can be found here on the Council’s website.
The recommendation in the reports are as follows:
That the Committee recommends to the Executive Board that:
(i) it acknowledges and supports the work undertaken by The Sports Consultancy to review its leisure services;
(ii) subject to modification resulting from the outcome of consultation (as described in paragraph 5.1 of this report) which is currently taking place, authorise the Head of Community Wellbeing and Development, in consultation with the Head of Assets and Economic Development, to close, decommission and demolish Plas Madoc Leisure Centre;
(iii) subject to (ii) above, authorise the Head of Assets and Economic Development to dispose of the site of the Plas Madoc Leisure Centre and for the Lead Member (Economic Development and Regeneration) to report back to the Executive Board with recommendations on the use of the capital receipt, to include options for reinvestment in facilities in Plas Madoc;
(iv) it authorises the Head of Community Wellbeing and Development to commission external support to enable the Council to transfer the management of its leisure service to an existing Leisure Trust and to report back to Executive Board before concluding any agreement;
(v) it authorises the Head of Community Wellbeing and Development to consult with schools where the dual use leisure facilities are based (excluding Clywedog swimming pool) to seek to transfer the management of the facilities to the schools and to report back to the Executive Board on the outcome of the consultation with recommendations for transfer or closure or retention of facilities; and -
(vi) it authorises the Head of Community Wellbeing and Development in consultation with the Head of Assets and Economic Development and Head of Finance, to consider options for funding the replacement facility for Waterworld (if Members decide not to invest immediately in a replacement facility), reporting back to this Scrutiny Committee at a future date.
The ‘output’ of todays long meeting and debate was the altering of the brackets in the final point above.
It is worth noting that todays meeting was not a decision making committee, however puts forward these recommendations to the Executive Board in January.
Despite a vote taking place councillors were still asking questions after the vote and at one point it did appear to verge on what can only be described as a shambles.
Picture: A defining view of the Wrexham skyline, with both the police station and now Waterworld set to be removed.