An independent councillor says it “beggars belief” that the Conservatives at Lichfield District Council attempted to push through the plan to close Friary Grange Leisure Centre without consultation.
The local authority announced plans to close the facility in April 2020 on Friday (12th July), with the decision expected to be rubber-stamped at a meeting of the full council tonight.
But the Conservative group has now deferred the final call until September to allow for further consultation to take place.
Cllr Joanne Grange, independent representative for the Chadsmead ward, said she could not believe the speed with which the decision had almost been made.
She told a public meeting at Curborough Community Centre: “The fact that this announcement came out on a Friday afternoon with a proposed council meeting on Tuesday to ratify the ultimate decision beggars belief to me.
“That means there has been no time to consult the users of the leisure centre or the community and it’s been presented as a done deal.
“But the fact that in just 48 hours there have been 3,500 signatures on the online petition and this many people have come together with little or no notice is amazing.”
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.”
The closure of Friary Grange Leisure Centre would leave Lichfield residents facing a trip to Burntwood in order to access public swimming, gym and sports facilities.
Cllr Grange warned this was an option that was not available to all users of the Friary site.
“The fact that the leisure centre is in the catchment area of two of the poorest wards in the district means that the suggestion people should get in their car and go to Burntwood is not feasible for some people,” she said.
“And that’s not fair.
“I will be fighting alongside the organisers of the petition and the meeting to push as hard as we can to get the right outcome and for this leisure centre to stay open.”