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Council confirms Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre will shut down permanently

Campaigners Save Our Leisure Centre Pontllanfraith (Pic: Kate Alderson)

SENIOR councillors in Caerphilly have voted to permanently close Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre, bringing to an end a seven-year battle that at one point spilled into the courts.

The council was forced to redraw its plans to shut the site in 2019 after high court judges quashed part of the original proposal from 2017.

The leisure centre was effectively mothballed at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, later serving as a mass vaccination centre for the local health board.

But Caerphilly Council argued the site was nearly 50-years-old and had a “significant” maintenance backlog of nearly half a million pounds, and there were better leisure facilities nearby following recent investment.

The proposed closure has been disputed by community campaigners, however, who fought for years against the council’s plans.

One of the local councillors who supported those residents said the final decision to close the centre down was “bitterly disappointing”.

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At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday March 20, council leader Sean Morgan struck a conciliatory note as he spoke about the leisure centre.

He said the council had made “obviously a very difficult decision” because “people feel very connected to Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre” and had enjoyed “good times there”.

The centre was “not something anybody wants to see close” but senior councillors “can’t be nostalgic, we’ve got to be pragmatic”.

The council had invested in other sports facilities, including at Islwyn High School and a pitch at Blackwood Comprehensive School, Cllr Morgan added.

Following the cabinet members’ decision, the leisure centre will be closed – permanently – but the 3G sports pitch will remain in use until a replacement all-weather facility opens as part of the nearby Centre for Vulnerable Learners (CVL), which will soon be built on the site of the old Pontllanfraith Comprehensive School.

Jeff Reynolds, the council’s sport and leisure facilities manager, said the CVL will include a four-court sports hall, a smaller 3G pitch, and has been designed to be accessible in line with leading Sport England guidance.

The CVL will be available for community use on weekday evenings and on weekends, Mr Reynolds added.

But Cllr Shane Williams, who represents Labour in the Cefn Fforest and Pengam ward, said the CVL was initially “supposed to be an additional facility” for the community, rather than a replacement, and wouldn’t open until long after the leisure centre was shut down.

Thousands of residents had signed a petition to save the leisure centre and held marches in opposition to the planned closure, he said, adding that he continued to question the council’s claims about the costs of refurbishing the site.

Reacting to the cabinet members’ decision, Cllr Williams said “everyone involved with the campaign is bitterly disappointed” but the move “hadn’t come as any surprise to us”.

He said that suggestions to bring the centre into community hands had been rejected and the council had “pushed on with the plan to close it” despite the grassroots opposition.