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The safety of residents must come first when decisions are made about the reopening of leisure centres, a Lichfield councillor has said.

Although facilities can reopen from 25th July, current plans would see Friary Grange Leisure Centre remain shut until October.

Friary Grange Leisure Centre

Lichfield District Council is proposing to use a phased approach with only Burntwood Leisure Centre opening initially due to financial concerns as well as challenges around social distancing measures at Friary Grange.

Cllr Mike Wilcox told an overview and scrutiny committee meeting that the local authority could not afford to put people at risk.

Cllr Mike Wilcox

“I’m sure we’d all love to see both centres reopen following COVID-19, but the reality is that we are still in a pandemic.

“The over-riding position has to be safety of our residents and that’s why I’m happy to support the actions being suggested.

“We must make sure that where we do open these centres that measures are robust. The last thing we want is to see any start of a local outbreak like those that we’ve seen in other parts of the country like Leicester.

“We really do have to tread carefully and move forward with great caution. In opening Burntwood we are doing that.”

Cllr Mike Wilcox, Lichfield District Council

The meeting heard about plans to limit numbers in leisure centres when they reopen, with a pre-booking system being put in place in Burntwood.

The council’s head of operations Ben Percival also said that some sessions might be moved to outdoor spaces.

“While Friary Grange remains closed we’ll be looking at transferring some of them to Burntwood and to the outdoor gyms.

“That gives us greater opportunities to move support sessions into open air facilities where it’s a lot more safe from a COVID perspective.”

Ben Percival, Lichfield District Council

“We must put our residents first and we must tread carefully”

Cllr Wilcox said the phased reopening would also allow the council to judge the numbers wanting to access leisure centres.

“I don’t think we’ll see people rushing back straight away, but if they do come back they want to feel that as an authority we’ve acted responsibly in making sure that all measures protect them and everyone they come into contact with.

“It’s a shame that we’re only able to open one centre, but I think it’s the right move.

“We must put our residents first and we must tread carefully.

“Hopefully later in the year we’ll be able to reopen all of the facilities.”

Cllr Mike Wilcox, Lichfield District Council

Ross

Founder of Lichfield Live and editor of the site.

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8 Comments

  1. I listened to the meeting last night and must admit to getting a little confused by the debate.

    To start with, the decision was presented as a financial decision, driven by a £47,000 differential (or, for context, 2 artworks for Friarsgate hoardings) between opening in July and possibly, maybe, depending on some unspecified criteria, opening in October.

    The discussion then moved onto safety, which clearly is the most important consideration as Cllr Wilcox rightly points out. And that’s where I got confused. If safety is indeed, as it should be, the overriding criteria in this decision, and space is the limiting factor given the ongoing need for social distancing, then surely opening both centres in July, and spreading the demand over two centres is safer for our communities than trying to get everyone to use one centre? In addition, given the main catchment for FGLC includes two of the district’s most deprived wards, getting people from north Lichfield to Burntwood will necessitate, in some cases, the use of public transport where it is recognised that social distancing is more difficult and hence riskier.

    The truth of the matter is that no one knows, or can know, how people are going to respond to the opening of leisure facilities, but there appears to be a desire from a lot of people to get exercising again and for the sake of £47,000 (2 Friarsgate hoardings) why wouldn’t we just open both and make best use of the available facilities and space to maximise social distancing?

  2. Joanne you have put it perfectly I for one being a regular in Friary Gym am not going to fight my way to Burntwood and do a 20 mile round trip instead of 10 miles unless I am going to get the fuel supplied.
    In my view this is just a way of the council getting to the point that no one goes ( It is shut but ignore that ) so we might just as well close it and make the magnificent staff redundant. The council are not bothered about the Lichfield public and never have been since councilors could start drawing benefits and being members of political parties and not going for election for the good of the community

  3. I would like a better explanation of what the two hoardings are and why they are so expensive. Are they really fundamental to the opening of the leisure centre? Is there an alternative?
    The council has never had its heart in the Friary Leisure Centre, as we well know. Only public demand rescued it last time. Is this yet another attempt to discredit it?
    Thank you Joanne Grange your account is helpful. With the government sanctioning opening many other facilities there is no argument for keeping this one closed. Perhaps our MP might concur.

  4. Thank you Joanne for summing up the reasoning behind not opening Friary Grange leisure centre. It would indeed seem more sensible to spread the possible demand for leisure and fitness facilities over two sites rather than everyone having to travel to Burntwood. We are told that to survive Corvid19 those who are fit stand the best chance, and all through the lockdown weeks exercise was stressed, so getting public facilities up and running as soon as possible would seem a good idea. Friary Grange is in the area of the city with the most need, and with residents the least likely to be able to afford the journey to Burntwood, which will I imagine be oversubscribed.
    After the fuss last Autumn about keeping the pool open for public use, is this just an excuse by the council to close it anyway? Or is that being too suspicious?

  5. @Philip – here’s the info on the hoardings: https://lichfieldlive.co.uk/2019/12/28/images-on-hoardings-around-former-friarsgate-site-branded-disappointing-by-councillor/

    The hoardings have absolutely nothing to do with the opening of the leisure centres, but are a useful unit of currency to put cost in context. At the current rate of exchange, 1 hoarding = £23k so 2 hoardings is £46k, which represents the cost differential of opening FGLC at the same time as Burntwood. Clearly £47k to have extra space, and hence safety, for leisure centre users is not a small sum of money, but when considered against what has been spent on the hoardings and the risks that may be caused from not using the available capacity for leisure activities, I’d suggest it represents good value for money.

  6. Thank you councillor Grange. I admit to being confused about the hoarding. The cost comparison is a bit of a red herring as the situation is not either / or. The merits of any council expenditure should be made on their own. I would also suggest that any provisions for Covid 19 need not be over engineered as , hopefully, their requirement will be short term.
    It would be nice if facilities were neutrality financed and self supporting. Sadly this is not the case and places like Friary Leisure Centre and the Garrick receive substantial grants. I suppose another price comparison would be what gives better value. If you had a Dominic Cummings on the council he would be telling you to treat emotive issues with kid gloves. There are many such in the LDC area and Friary Leisure is not the least of them.

  7. Mike Wilcox really does talk nonsense, he talks about “it being a shame,” yet it’s blatantly obvious that this is a financial decision, how does forcing people into one facility reduce the risk?

    LDC’s attempts to rid themselves of this facility has been given a Covid boost, and he’s grabbing it with both hands.

    The architect of abject failure, it’s a shame he only lost his leadership.

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