Three pools could close as council faces big budget cuts

Cllr David Dagger.
Cllr David Dagger.

Swimming pools in Pontefract, Castleford and Knottingley are all at risk of closure as Wakefield Council looks to made £61m of savings in the next two years.

A ‘Leisure – Fundamental Service Review’ report, commissioned by the council, has identified that pools in the Five Towns need £1.3m of urgent repairs, with ‘potential failure of any of these three a realistic prospect in the near future’.

The report suggests closing the three facilities and building a new multi-million pound leisure centre.

The report will be put before cabinet on Tuesday, with councillors being asked to refer it to the regeneration and economic growth overview and scrutiny committee before any decisions are made.

The review sets out a number of options, including building a new leisure centre in Glass Houghton, at Pontefract Park or at the former Prince of Wales Colliery site. The facility would cost between £12.6m and £13.6m, depending on the location. The options include the planned new facility being run by the council or by a third party. Knottingley Sports Centre would be upgraded, with an additional 30 health and fitness stations provided, at a cost of £2.4m.

The report also asks the council to look at building a pool in the south east, as a replacement for Minsthorpe Pool, South Elmsall, which closed last year owing to the cost of essential repairs.

There is also the potential to upgrade the health and fitness provision at Featherstone Sports Centre and expand facilities at Normanton Pool.

The leisure review was commissioned by the council as it sought to find the savings it needed. The council runs seven pools – not including Minsthorpe – across the district on a budget on £2.9m, which will reduce by around 25 per cent in the coming years.

The report was released in the same week that the council set out how it intends to make £38m of savings in 2015–16. The budget report, which will also be considered by cabinet next week, revealed plans to slash 1,400 more jobs and increase council tax by two per cent.

It proposes cuts of £20m from the adult care budget, £5m from services for children and young people and £8m by re-organising bereavement services.

CCTV coverage will be reduced, charges for bulky waste collections will increase and parks and open spaces will be kept in a more ‘unkempt, natural state’.

Plans of how £23m of savings will be made in 2014–15 were released last year.

Coun David Dagger, cabinet member for culture, sport and libraries, said: “The review has shown that leisure facilities in the Five Towns are in urgent need of repair. We have to consider how we deal with this so that we can meet the needs of this part of the district – now and for the future.

“However, it is equally important that we look at how we can deliver this in light of the significant financial challenges we now face. We are striving to do our best for the people of the whole district but the financial climate will make this very difficult.

“We are asking the scrutiny committee to look into the implications of the review and report back to cabinet, before any decision is made.”

Council leader Peter Box said: “We’ve now reached the stage where it would be wrong to say that we can continue to protect front line services. I hate to say it, but there is no doubt that service quality will start to suffer. That is the reality we face.”

l See next week’s Express for more on this story.