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Leader of Lichfield District Council calls for fresh talks over future of Friary Grange Leisure Centre

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.

Doug Pullen
Doug Pullen

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.

Cllr Doug Pullen speaking at the public meeting
Cllr Doug Pullen speaking at the public meeting

“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.”

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6 Comments

  1. Flossy

    16th July, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    Doug is pulling our leg. Massive incompetence from such a new Leader LDC is simply out of touch

  2. Philip John

    16th July, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    “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”

    Let me get this straight….

    1. Staffordshire County Council owns Friary School and Friary Grange Leisure centre
    2. Friary School is converting to an academy (who decided that?)
    3. Staffs CC decide to let that happen, taking the school out of public control and into the hands of a private organisation
    4. Staffs CC decide to also hand over some profitable land from Friary Grange
    5. Staffs CC know that will leave the rest of Friary Grange unsustainable but agree it anyway
    6. Staffs CC tell Lichfield District Council to foot the bill for repairs that are needed because Staffs CC haven’t done their job of maintaining their own building
    7. LDC says no (understandably IMO)
    8. Staffs CC says “Fine. We’re closing it then.”
    9. Post-closure, Lichfield will be relying on the generosity of the private organisation running Friary School to have any use of the remaining (“profitable”) part of Friary Grange

  3. FiveSpiresLive (@FiveSpiresLive)

    16th July, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    Sounds about right Philip, although without access to the various agreements over the years between SCC, LDC, Freedom Leisure and the Academy entity it’s difficult to pinpoint where the incompetence/naivety lies. Whatever the answer, it’s clear that the Lichfield residents have been stitched up.

  4. Kim Rochelle

    16th July, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    It was interesting to hear Councillor Pullen state at the meeting that LDC had been served 12 months notice on the termination of the joint lease agreement between LDC and Staffordshire CC. As the closure date for the centre is April 2020, I asked him whether we should assume that notice was served in April 2019 and that LDC Cabinet were aware of this before the local elections in May? He responded politely but neither he nor his Cabinet colleagues at the meeting were able to answer the question because they said they were not involved in the last Cabinet, which was a fair response. However, it’s not unreasonable to assume that negotiations between the last LDC Cabinet and Staffs CC must have been taking place long before April this year and behind closed doors. Should we be calling this Friary-gate?

  5. Darryl Godden

    16th July, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    What a shambles, my enduring hope it is simply incompetence because the alternative is much worse.

    What do the scrutiny committee do? Make tea?

  6. Jeff

    17th July, 2019 at 9:47 pm

    Looking at the bigger picture, given LDC are very aware of the deterioration of their assets, of which FGLC is one, it’s unsurprising yet damning that no mitigation has been put in place.

    It really is incredible to think that against a back drop of council tax rises and increased pressure on council services, LDC have not imposed conditions from any of the many developers who have descended upon the Lichfield area to create or contribute towards essential, local infrastructure. Surely a planning condition for the building of Walsall Rd estate (part 1 or 2) or the new Streethay development would be to create much needed local leisure/community facility

    Perhaps this reflects the focus of the long standing Tory-led council towards increasing revenue in the short term rather than looking after the communities they claim to represent.

    Maybe, just maybe, LDC have been getting away with murder for some time (Friarsgate etc) and until now, when local residents are facing real impacts, they have escaped due scrutiny. Now the microscope is being focused upon their actions it is being revealed to be shambolic dysfunctional organisation. In the case of Cllr Checkland a conflict of interest that borders on farce. Thankfully, he should be excluded from further council dealings on this matter failing his resignation from the board of governors of Friary School.

    One thing is for sure, there is no silver bullet and there is no money for a new leisure centre on the Friarsgate wasteland.

    Any solution will be a compromise between Friary School, Staffs CC and LDC, all of whom want rid of this albatross from their necks. Wishful thinking.

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