To approve the Cabinet recommendations made at the meeting on 9 July 2019 (report to follow)
This report is to be considered in private since it contains exemptinformation (as defined by Paragraphs 3 and 4 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to the financial and business affairs of the authority and other organisations, and information relating to consultations/negotiations in connection with employment matters.
It was moved by Councillor Strachan and seconded by Councillor Eadie:
‘That in recognition of the public response to the closure announcement no further decision be made in relation to the Friary Grange Leisure Centre until the petition has been debated by Cabinet in public.’
Councillor Norman referred to the joint press statement issued by the District Council and County Council on 12 July, which he said made clear that the original plan was to close the Leisure Centre. He said there had not been enough scrutiny and questions needed to be asked about the options. Councillor Norman said the issue should be considered in the light of responses from the public and users, and the impact on Burntwood Leisure Centre needed to be investigated.
Councillor Grange noted that the Petition in connection with the Leisure Centre had already reached over 4,100 signatures and the quickly arranged public meeting had been attended by over 150 people.
She said the closure announcement had been slipped out on a Friday afternoon and referring to subsequent press coverage and social media activity Councillor Grange said Members should not underestimate the strength of public feeling.
Councillor Grange noted that the Staffordshire Health and Community Service had identified four areas of need in the District and two of these, the wards of Chadsmead and Curborough, were in the direct catchment area of the Leisure Centre.
Additionally the Council’s Local Plan Review Sustainability Appraisalidentified Chadsmead together with Chasetown in Burntwood as being in the 20% most deprived wards nationally. The same document reported that life expectancy was lower in these areas and Chadsmead had a high proportion of children compared to other wards in the District.
Referring to publications by Public Health England Councillor Grange spoke of the impact of deprivation on health, and the impact of health inequality on life expectancy.
Councillor Grange noted that Councils around the country had sought to address health inequalities in different ways, including the ‘Refresh’ programme introduced in Blackburn and Darwen which aimed to make leisure services as affordable as possible and resulted in a 50% increase in physical activity.
Councillor Grange said the County Council and District Council should be ashamed if they could not make a clear link between identified needs and the provision of public access leisure centres.
She advised that it was important for the Council to see the bigger picture, rather than focus purely on the financial aspects of the decision; noting that there would be further opportunities to talk about the impact on anti-social behaviour, educational achievement, mental health, the obesity crisis, disability access, cardiac rehabilitation and the environmental impact of travelling to Burntwood Leisure Centre and other oversubscribed alternatives.
Indicating her support for the Motion, Councillor Grange said the decision to leave the City without a public access leisure centre for any period of time, was short-sighted and needed to be overturned following sensible debate and scrutiny.
Councillor Ray noted that he had voted against the recommendation of the Leisure, Parks and Waste Management (Overview & Scrutiny) Committee regarding the closure of the Centre. He thanked Councillors Pullen, Eadie and E Little for attending the public meeting and committing to review the decision in an open and transparent way.
Councillor Ray said there needed to be a genuine search for alternatives and negotiations with the County Council needed to continue. He said the Birmingham Road site offered a potential solution and asked that this be kept on the table. Councillor Ray stated that the Leisure Centre should remain open in the short to medium term with a new facility provided in the future.
Councillor Robertson spoke about the strength of local feeling and stressed that listening was essential because thousands of people in Lichfield would be affected by the decision and those who could not afford to pay for alternative facilities would be worst hit. He thanked the Members who had attended the public meeting and said he hoped there was a will on both sides of the Chamber to reach a solution that ensured no one would miss out.
Councillor Cox referred to the strength of feeling and anxiety of people across the District. He mentioned that a young resident of Armitage with Handsacre who used the swimming pool was now taking part in the National Championships in Glasgow.
Councillor Cox welcomed the opportunity to examine the options, noting that not everyone could afford private leisure facilities and it was important to consider the knock on effects including the impact on rehabilitation, the Healthy Staffordshire initiative etc.
Councillor Birch spoke about deaths by drowning, including two in the Burntwood and Lichfield area in recent weeks. With 263 people losing their lives in accidental drownings in 2018 he said it was incumbent on the Authority to care for the health and safety of young people and ensure they had the skills needed to keep themselves safe near water.
Councillor Birch said he understood there were financial problems but this did not mean the Council shouldn’t explore all options to ensure continued provision for Lichfield residents.
Councillor Ball said he welcomed the motion to defer the decision. He advised that he had attended a meeting on the Strategic Plan the previous evening where finding a solution to Friary Grange Leisure Centre was identified as a top priority. He hoped the Cabinet would listen carefully and called for the existing facility to be kept open until a new one was in place.
Councillor Pullen agreed with the benefits of having a swimming pool. He acknowledged that Staffordshire County Council faced huge budget pressures in adult social care but said it was quite right that top tier authorities invested in leisure facilities. He noted that Blackburn and Darwen was a top tier authority and he was unable to speak on their behalf regarding the allocation of budgets.
Councillor Pullen emphasised his commitment to dealing with the issue in an open and transparent way, which he hoped had been demonstrated by his attendance together with other Cabinet Members at the recent community meeting, the decision to bring previously confidential information into the public domain and the decision to allow members of the public to speak at the Cabinet meeting that would be arranged to consider the issue.
Councillor Pullen noted that a report on the issue had already been considered by the relevant Overview & Scrutiny Committee. He confirmed that no option was off the table and there would be a genuine search for alternatives with further talks taking place with the County Council and Friary School.
Councillor Eadie said he hoped all Members of the Council recognised that the Cabinet decision had been through all the appropriate channels of the Council and debate had taken place at Overview and Scrutiny.
He advised that the timing of the closure statement was due to the fact that the Council had sought to agree a joint position with the County Council. This had delayed the release and meant it was published later in the day than the Council would have preferred.
Councillor Eadie confirmed that there had been ongoing discussions with Staffordshire County Council. With regard to the Birmingham Road site, a process was underway to commission a master planning exercise. He said the Council was very aware of the Local Plan and the infrastructure delivery obligations including the need to have leisure provision. He said this could be provided in different ways, noting that public access leisure facilities in Tamworth were operated by the private sector.
Councillor Eadie emphasised that the District Council had not asked to be put in the current position and he was grateful that recent press coverage had put more information in the public realm. He noted that the proposed arrangements between the County Council and the School offered a much diminished facility and this was partly behind the thinking to date.
Councillor Eadie said he hoped the County would work with the District going forward, and a short to medium term solution could be found that ensured swimming provision for the people of Lichfield. He said he wanted the Council to deliver more to help the inactive and less active in the District.
Councillor Strachan acknowledged that the Leisure Centre was a much loved and needed facility and it was necessary to remedy any loss or at least mitigate it as much as possible.
He said it was a challenging position between a school that wanted to become an academy and make the most of its facilities; a county council that wanted to support this in the context of its own financial difficulties and the District Council’s difficulty in maintaining the asset given the amount of investment needed and its own funding gap.
Councillor Strachan spoke of the scale of the public response and said the time available should be used wisely to explore options and allow everyone affected by the decision to have their say.
It was then
RESOLVED: In recognition of the public response to the closure announcement no further decision be made in relation to the Friary Grange Leisure Centre until the petition has been debated by Cabinet in public.
(COUNCILLORS EAGLAND AND GREATOREX HAVING DECLARED INTERESTS LEFT THE CHAMBER AND WERE NOT PRESENT DURING THE CONSIDERATION OF THIS ITEM)
(COUNCILLOR CHECKLAND HAVING DECLARED AN INTEREST LEFT THE CHAMBER DURING CONSIDERATION OF THIS ITEM)
(COUNCILLOR WHITE ARRIVED FOLOWING CONSIDERATION OF THIS ITEM)