‘Bitterly disappointing’: MP criticises decision to close two pools

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MP Yvette Cooper has hit out at a decision to shut two leisure facilities at the start of next month.

Ms Cooper, who represents the Pontefract, Castleford and Knottingley constituency, said it was “bitterly disappointing” that Wakefield Council was pressing ahead with the closure of Knottingley Sports Centre and Castleford Swimming Pool.

MP Yvette Cooper

MP Yvette Cooper

And she called on the government to increase the amount of money given to local councils, claiming it was “deeply unfair” that towns across the country were “bearing the brunt of cuts”.

She said: “This is bitterly disappointing news that Knottingley and Castleford pools will be forced to close at the beginning of February after our long campaign to try to keep them open.

“This is the direct consequence of the brutal £180m cuts that the government has imposed on Wakefield Council - including big cuts to social care budgets just when pressures are rising.

“The trouble is that this is so short-termist - because if you cut sports and leisure facilities then in the long run you just make it harder for people to stay healthy and push up the costs of social care.

“Unless the government puts more money into councils and social care in the budget, even more local services will be hit, making it even harder for our local councillors.

“We need an urgent increase in cash from the Chancellor for Wakefield Council or things will get even worse.”

Ms Cooper, who has campaigned to keep both leisure facilities open, was speaking after this morning’s announcement that the pools would shut on February 3, despite backlash from the community.

The council said it will move forward with proposals to shut the sites down, ahead of the development of a new £14.8m leisure centre in Pontefract Park.

Protesters gather at Castleford swimming pool.

Protesters gather at Castleford swimming pool.

It said keeping the Knottingley site, built in 1969, and Castleford pool, built in 1983, open “in their current dilapidated state” was costing £750k per year.

Coun Les Shaw, cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport said: “We fully understand there will be some disappointment about the closures.

“Ideally, we would have liked to keep all the existing facilities open until the new leisure centre is built. However, this is now impossible because of the relentless cuts to our budget.”

The council first announced the cost-cutting closures in September, before holding an eight-week consultation on the plans.

More than 2,200 people signed a petition to keep Castleford Pool open, whilst Knottingley Swimming Club fronted a campaign, backed by more than 2,000 people, to save the town’s sports centre.

Angry campaigners protested against the plans, raising concerns including the time and cost of travelling to Pontefract to access facilities and the amount of pool and leisure space available.

And our readers have today taken to Facebook to share their thoughts on the final decision.

Luke Greenwood wrote: “Congrats Wakefield Council, awesome work, destroying communities like never before, so is the 3rd Feb the date Knottingley folk stop paying council tax?”

And Jason Miffy Smith said: “Stupid, they get on about obesity in adults and children as well and Wakefield Council have the great idea to shut amenities where people can go to get fit and have fun at the same time .”

Becci Thourgood also criticised the move, writing: “It disgusting really! My poor grandad goes swimming 6 days a week to Castleford Pool. He’s in his eighties and drives but is bad on his legs and doesn’t like to drive far and must be able to park close.

“Looks like he will have to stop swimming if Pontefract is the only option.

“I’m sure there are lots of other older people who will not be able travel so will have to give up something they enjoy as well.”

Gemma Smith said: “So how are all the school children in these areas going to go swimming with schools to just one swimming pool?”

Dale Waring wrote: “Castleford is long gone a dying town, be nothing left soon.”

And Caroline Walker said: “If they are going to build a new one why shut the others down before its built? None of it makes sense but who are we ? We’re only the public that fund these places with our council taxes. It seems the Public Voice no longer exists. Get healthy, live longer so long as its not in your area. What a Joke.”

Greg Thomson added: “Really don’t agree with this decision. It wouldn’t have been such a big a blow if they had closed these down once this new facility is open. Pontefract baths is the worst of the three in question. “They have only kept this one open in the attempt to appease the local people of Knottingley and Castleford as it is in the middle of the three towns.”

Others were more forgiving.

Helen Mountain said: “Pontefract is a better swimming baths I love going there. Think this decision is right what the council have decided.”

And Grant Osborne DipPhoto wrote: “What’s got to be done has to be done to improve the future of our sports facilities.”

Today, Wakefield Council authority has pledged a £1m capital funding boost to support regeneration projects in both towns, following the leisure centre closures.

Design work on the new leisure centre will now get underway and once complete, a planning application will be drawn up.

The facility, which will include a ten-lane swimming pool, gym and exercise studios and a climbing activity, will replace both the Knottingley and Castleford leisure facilities as well as the current Pontefract Pool, which is expected to close around the time the new centre is built.

Ms Cooper said: “I will be meeting tomorrow with one of the local community based groups that was interested in taking over Knottingley Sports Centre to see if there is any last shot at keeping the facilities open.

“In other parts of the country community asset transfers have managed to keep pools and sports centres open.

“’m urging the council to work with these groups and to give them time to draw up proper plans rather than rush to closure.

“Having a new pool in Pontefract will be great when it opens in a few years’ time but we need facilities in other towns too.

“Community takeovers aren’t easy given the age of the buildings but I believe every last option should be tried and if anyone else wants to get involved or be kept updated then contact me as soon as possible on 01977 553388 or coopery@parliament.uk.

“I have also asked the council for more information about the regeneration investment that they have announced, as I have long been calling for major new investment in Knottingley town centre.

“I believe there is a wider problem for towns like ours right across the country. It is deeply unfair that towns across Britain are taking the biggest brunt of government cuts to services, while more new investment and jobs go into the biggest cities so towns get left behind.”