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Council criticised for refusing 1,800-name petition to save Aberfan Leisure Centre

Aberfan Community Centre In Merthyr Tydfil (Pic: Google Maps)

CONCERN has been raised that Merthyr Tydfil Council didn’t accept a 1,800-name petition by residents to save a leisure centre that was set-up in the aftermath of the 1966 Aberfan Disaster.

The local MP Gerald Jones, trade union GMB and the opposition Labour group on the council have said the petition in relation to Aberfan and Merthyr Vale Community Centre wasn’t accepted by the authority.

The future of the leisure centre and swimming pool in Aberfan has been thrown into doubt recently as the trust responsible for leisure services – Wellbeing Merthyr –  is set to have its contract ended soon.

Gerald Jones MP said that representatives from the GMB trade union sought to present the petition to Merthyr Tydfil Council’s deputy leader, independent Councillor Andrew Barry, on Wednesday only to be turned away with claims that residents’ concerns were “inaccurate.”

He said he has now written to the council’s monitoring officer highlighting concerns about what he calls an “undemocratic” move.

He said: “Opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973, the leisure centre in Aberfan has been a key focal point for the community, and we’re all deeply worried that it could close, leaving staff and customers in the lurch.

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“Residents, supported by the GMB trade union, have collected almost 2,000 names of people who are understandably worried about the centre’s future.

“Citizens have every right to petition their council and it’s deeply concerning that the independent deputy leader would refuse to acknowledge public concerns.

“Councils simply cannot pick and choose what petitions to accept, and I’ve written to the council’s legal officer asking if this behaviour was in line with their constitution.”

GMB union rep Matthew Felton said: “Aberfan Leisure Centre is very busy, we’re all really shocked that it could even be considered for closure.

“Staff are obviously worried for their jobs, and the independent-run council have failed to talk to us. Now their deputy leader refuses to even accept a petition. What have they got to hide?”

Leader of the opposition Labour group, Councillor Brent Carter, added: “Aberfan Leisure Centre has a special place in our community, not least because of its legacy from the disaster.

“Residents of Merthyr Tydfil deserve better. Where the independent-run council have let people down, Labour will step up. I’ve arranged to meet the GMB union to accept the petition and present it on their behalf at the next full council meeting.”

In response the council said that Councillor Andrew Barry was concerned that the petition contained inaccuracies and therefore might not comply with the council’s petitions policy. He was also concerned that residents had misunderstood the position.

 Since this time, Cllr Barry has had further communication with GMB and invited them to engage in an open discussion on the petition and to whom it should be presented.

At a recent full council meeting, the leader of the council Councillor Geraint Thomas, independent, gave an overview of the current situation in relation to the centre.

He told council: “Between 1988 and March 30, 2015 Aberfan and Merthyr Vale Community Centre was managed by Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council as trustees for the Aberfan Disaster Fund and Centre. The centre has never been a council asset and the council has never ‘owned’ it.

“Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust Ltd – now known as Wellbeing Merthyr – was created from the council’s former leisure services department.

“The belief was that by creating a charitable trust the service would be better protected at a time of austerity, and have more opportunity to access grant funding, in turn providing a better service for the people of Merthyr Tydfil.

“Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust Ltd. took over leisure services in Merthyr Tydfil on April 1, 2015.

“Following Charity Commission approval in October 2015, Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust Ltd became the Trustees of The Aberfan Disaster Fund and Centre. The transfer of trusteeship of the building occurred in April 2016.

“In December 2023 full council made the decision to end the agreement with the trust, as the result of a number of concerns in relation to the delivery of the contract.

“Over recent months the council has been attempting to work with Wellbeing Merthyr on the managed termination of that contract, which includes the continuation of services at Aberfan and Merthyr Vale Community Centre.

“Whilst we were initially working to a date of March 31, this has extended to April 30, 2024.

“The complication with Aberfan and Merthyr Vale Community Centre is that the building is vested in the current trustees and does not automatically revert to the council at the end of the current contact, therefore we face some additional legal hurdles in relation the centre.

“To take over services there we need to have permission from the trustees.

“Our aim and priority is to keep all leisure facilities open, including Aberfan and Merthyr Vale Community Centre, and we have reached out to Wellbeing Merthyr as the trustees of the centre to ensure the seamless continuation of service.

“Any decision in relation to Aberfan centre rests solely with the current trustees so my plea to them is to please work with us to ensure a seamless transition of service for the people of Merthyr Tydfil.”