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The leader of Lichfield District Council says he has requested a new meeting with The Friary School and Staffordshire County Council over a local leisure centre threatened with closure.
A move to shut Friary Grange Leisure Centre from April 2020 had been expected to be rubber-stamped at a meeting of the district council tonight, but a petition and public meeting has now forced a delay to the final decision until September.
Cllr Doug Pullen was among those who spoke at the meeting and says he will now be seeking to return to the table for fresh discussions after hearing the views of residents.
“Clearly I was apprehensive about attending the meeting,” he said. “But I thought it vital that I was there to listen to the many highly engaged residents
” It helped to crystallise many issues for me and other councillors and we were really glad we could be there.
“This morning I met with a team at the district council and put together a plan of action that will see us requesting a meeting with The Friary School and Staffordshire County Council in the coming days.”
The talks come after the chair of governors said it was time for The Friary School to take back its facilities from the leisure centre.
“A feasible solution in the short-term”
Cllr Pullen accepted there would be hurdles to overcome in order to keep the remaining facilities, including the pool, open to the public if the more profitable elements transfer to the school.
But he said it was crucial that every avenue was exhausted before a final decision was made.
“As outlined last night, the terms the county council has offered us sees the profitable elements, which are the sports hall and the synthetic pitch, pass to the school’s management as part of their plan to become an academy,” Cllr Pullen said.
“These areas previously helped us to finance the running costs of the pool and the gym, and without them the arrangement is not viable.
“This needs to be discussed further, as the removal of these elements from the lease is a big part of the issue, along with the massive capital investment required to deliver urgent repairs.
“I am hopeful that all parties can come together to start to look at any practical ways we can ensure Friary Grange Leisure Centre benefits both the community and the school, and has the backing of all parties and attempt to reach a feasible solution in the short-term.”
The online petition has forced the council to delay any final decision as it needs to be discussed by Cabinet first.
“Too important an issue”
Cllr Pullen said he had heard concerns from residents about the potential for such debates to be held behind closed doors.
“We are working on a plan for a meeting to consider the petition in September,” he said. “This will not be a scheduled Cabinet meeting as it is too important an issue and it will be held in public.
“At the meeting we will be inviting groups and individuals to talk and put forward their concerns, before the matter is fully debated by councillors in public.
“We want to make sure the community has a chance to have their say and is properly heard.
“We have been receiving a number of complaints and Freedom of Information enquiries and in response have set up a web page where we will publish the answers we give to these enquiries, as well as any updated frequently asked questions based on people’s complaints.
“While there is not much data on the Freedom of Information page at present, we will keep adding to both pages over the coming days. at www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/friaryfoi and www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/friaryfaqs.
“Finally, we are continuing to work on the longer-term solution for leisure provision in the city, which will see us talking to Sports England and other parties in the near future and we hope to be able to share more information as these discussions progress.”