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The leader of Lichfield District Council has admitted that fresh talks over the future of Friary Grange Leisure Centre did not find an immediate solution – but says efforts will continue.
Cllr Doug Pullen met with Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for learning and employability Cllr Philip White, and The Friary School headteacher Matt Allman in a bid to break the deadlock over the future of the site.
Proposals to shut the leisure centre in April 2020 have been put forward, but a petition signed by more than 5,600 people has led to attempts to save Lichfield’s last remaining leisure centre.
Cllr Pullen said that while no breakthrough was made, all parties were committed to finding a way forward.
“I was really grateful that diaries were cleared so quickly to revisit our discussions, and it was a really positive start,” he said. “Everyone in the room recognised the huge strength of public support for the leisure centre, and the real need for public pool provision in the district.
“All partners at the meeting also made a firm commitment to explore a range of potential options to address the immediate threat of closure, as well as look at future options for more sustainable leisure provision in the district.
“While an immediate solution was not agreed, we are working collaboratively, with an ambition to bring forward a full assessment of all options after the summer.”
The future of Friary Grange Leisure Centre was thrown into doubt when Staffordshire County Council served a 12-month notice to the district council.
The move would allow The Friary School to take some of the profit-making elements of the facility – such as the sports hall and outdoor pitch – to support plans to become an academy.
Cllr White admitted that the situation was “complex”.
“It was good to have the opportunity to sit around the table and reflect on the public response to the potential closure of the leisure centre,” he said.
“At the meeting we all recognised the impact the closure of the centre, and in particular the pool, would have on the local community.
“While this is a complex situation, it’s hugely positive that we are working collaboratively to attempt to come up with ways to help keep the centre open in the short-term, as well as identify a longer-term leisure solution for Lichfield, while fully supporting the school’s move to academisation.”
The Friary School’s headteacher had previously told campaigners fighting to save the leisure centre that he was “not the bad guy”.
Speaking after the meeting, he said: “We were pleased to be able to contribute to the meeting and it was clear that all parties are equally committed to working hard on a resolution.
“As a school, we remain dedicated to our students, families and community and will continue to support the county and district councils in dealing with this matter.”