Disadvantaged groups have been hit hardest by delays in fully reopening Friary Grange Leisure Centre, a Lichfield councillor has warned.
The centre has been shuttered since the coronavirus crisis began, with the site due to reopen on Saturday (24th October).
But Lichfield District Council has announced that only the pool will be available on that date, with the dance studio and gym facilities not being usable until 2nd November.
The local authority also confirmed that the swimming pool would shut again at the end of November until next year to allow roof repairs to take place.
Cllr Dave Robertson said the news was a further blow to community groups most in need of leisure facilities.
“I am very disappointed that the centre will not be fully reopen until 2nd November, exactly 100 days since coronavirus restrictions on leisure centres were lifted.
“I am similarly disappointed that the swimming pool will only open for a month before again closing.
“The continued lack of provision at Friary Grange Leisure Centre has had a significant impact on its users who are more likely to come from a variety of disadvantaged groups, including women, the elderly, those from economically deprived communities and those who are more likely to suffer negative health effects from inactivity.
“I am yet to be convinced that there was a sound reason for the delay in reopening until this month and difficulties in tendering for the repairs to be undertaken in December should have been highlighted to members far in advance of a press statement released 41 days before the centre closes to undertake them.
“This will now mean that swimming provision in Lichfield has been restricted to expensive private pools in the south of the city, or to an alternative venue in Burntwood for 246 days of this year.
“While the earliest period of closure was mandated by central government to help combat the pandemic – a measure which we all supported – these restrictions were lifted on 25th July.
“A further 91 days were lost due to the reluctance of the council to reopen the facility and now a further 33 days will be lost on repairs beginning at the end November.”Cllr Dave Robertson, Lichfield District Council
Cllr Richard Cox, cabinet member responsible for leisure, defended the council’s actions on Friary Grange Leisure Centre, saying that the facility was being reopened as soon as it could be.
“The impact of COVID-19 required a review of plans around all our leisure facilities which I reported in full to the leisure, parks and waste management overview and scrutiny committee in July and updated in September.
“We were able to confirm our position in August for the re-opening of Friary Grange at the end of October.
“Work proceeded immediately with the final award of the repairs contract to allow work to start on site which happened earlier this month.
“We are re-opening Friary Grange facilities as soon as we’re able.
“The studio and gym are opening a week later than the pool to allow the access corridor to be decorated during half-term to minimise inconvenience to the school and avoid unnecessary crossover between school pupils and contractors.”Cllr Richard Cox, Lichfield District Council
“More questions than answers”
But in an email sent to Cllr Cox about the situation, Cllr Robertson said residents and users of the leisure centre had been let down.
“The entire situation around the reopening of Friary Grange after the nationwide lockdown has raised more questions than answers, now even more so in the light of the discussion which took place at council on 6th October.
“This situation has already caused reputational damage to the council among users and the wider community in the city and any further issues of this type at the centre before the replacement is delivered will only compound this damage – something that we should all hope to avoid.
“Considering the above it would be proper that a report should come to the leisure, parks and waste overview and scrutiny committee as soon as it is practicable, detailing any planned renovations and repairs to the centre and the timescales for completion of these alongside any anticipated closure of the facilities so that members can provide input on these and prevent any further issues from occurring.
“Consideration should be made of whether the refurbishment of the centre needs to be a standing item on the agenda for this committee.
“Council made a public commitment to keep Friary Grange open last year and it has failed to do so for more than two thirds of 2020.
“The people of the city deserve better than this record and it should be a priority for the cabinet to ensure that it keeps this promise.”Cllr Dave Robertson, Lichfield District Council