Residents have told a meeting that the plan to close Friary Grange Leisure Centre without public consultation is “irresponsible and negligent”.
The future of the facility on Eastern Avenue has been thrown into doubt after Lichfield District Council revealed last week that it intended to shut the site to the public from April 2020.
A hastily-arranged public meeting was held at Curborough Community Centre after thousands signed an online petition.
Among those to speak about the proposals was Nick Meade, who said the lack of discussion with users of Friary Grange Leisure Centre was unacceptable.
“How appalling it is that this decision wasn’t open to public consultation,” he said.
“If the council had asked people they’d have got all the answers and the views they’re hearing at this meeting beforehand.
“As part of Lichfield District Council’s strategy documents adopted in 2015, they talk about the delivery of a new leisure centre or new leisure facilities – it doesn’t sound like that’s what we’re doing.
“Then there’s the section about provision for open space for sport and recreation. We’ve got 3,900 more houses coming to Lichfield on one side and more than 1,000 on the other side. Where are they going to go?
“It’s outrageous that this is a decision that’s been made without people in the community. Why is that?
“With the current obesity and mental health epidemic it’s a negligent and irresponsible act to do this without talking to people that it affects.”
“Health and wellbeing”
His views were echoed by retired mental health nurse Linda Dickens, who said that closing the leisure centre would impact other services.
“Health and wellbeing is affected if people don’t get exercise,” she said. “It’s also important for retired people to have the facility for swimming as it’s good exercise and supports the body.
“In the long term you are fitter if you exercise and put less demands on your GP and the NHS.”
Nick added that there were significant issues for schoolchildren across the city if the swimming pool at Friary Grange is axed.
“I wonder if councillors know that it says in the national curriculum that primary school children should be able to swim 50 metres?” he said. “That’s not going to happen if there’s not a pool in Lichfield.”
Cllr Doug Pullen, leader of Lichfield District Council, told the meeting that consultation had not been possible because of restrictions relating to the employment status of Freedom Leisure staff who could be impacted by the closure.
“I hope that the action we’ve taken in recognising the petition and deferring any further decisions until we can debate it in public will show that we are intent on listening and hearing what people have to say,” he said. “And this isn’t us trying to kick the can down the road.
“This now gives us a period of time to carry out some proper consultation.
“It’s a regrettable situation that we were not able to do any consultation until now, but there’s a very specific reason as it had staffing implications for Freedom Leisure and we could not say anything in public until that point.”