Determined campaigners are “over the moon” to have safeguarded the future of a much-loved Pontllanfraith leisure centre dubbed a “community lifeline”.
Members of the Save Ponllanfraith Leisure Centre campaign group were thrilled with Caerphilly County Borough Council’s decision to defer the closure of the much-loved community facility.
Group member Dean Jones, whose under 12s team trains at the leisure centre, said the decision would be welcomed by thousands of families, community groups, and users across the county.
The Blackwood resident, who has coached at the facility for eight years, said: “This is a fantastic result, not just for people across Pontllanfraith, but also others across the county who vitally depend on this community lifeline.
“We are absolutely over the moon with the council’s decision, which will safeguard this amazing facility for so many people for generations to come.
“Our campaign group and its dedicated members have worked tirelessly, from the minute the potential closure was announced. They have been incredible and we can’t thank them enough.”
Fellow member Kate Alderson, who uses the leisure centre through a GP referral scheme, added: “This is amazing news and myself and the other group members are incredibly pleased with the council’s decision. I’d also like to specifically thank independent councillor Kevin Etheridge, whose motion to call-in the original decision really enabled us to fight on.”
The council’s U-turn comes after it announced plans to close the leisure centre, which features a range of amenities includes a sports hall, fitness centre, and football pitch, in December.
Following this, around 30 outraged residents formed the group with a view to challenging the “devastating” plans.
Since September members, including Ms Alderson and Mr Jones, have undertaken numerous activities including organising a petition to save the leisure centre, which attracted almost 1,700 signatures, they also held a demonstration outside the county council building in January, lobbied the Regeneration Scrutiny Committee alongside various cabinet members.
However, the turning point came when members sought the legal advice of specialist solicitor Michael Imperato at Watkins & Gunn Solicitors.
Mr Imperato, a public law specialist at the Cardiff, Newport and Pontypool-based firm, challenged the decision with the council, leading to its reversal.
He said: “The people of Pontllanfraith and its surrounding areas were rightly devastated by the threat to their leisure centre, which is used by community groups, as well as schools, and vulnerable users.
“We challenged the closure decision with the county council, citing various flaws in the consultation into its proposed closure.
“Specifically, we highlighted that the consultation may have been misleading in relation to the availability of Islwyn School, which may not have been able to cater for the displaced Pontlanfraith users. We also highlighted the necessity of the facility for many elderly and vulnerable groups, who rely on it weekly.
“Finally, we also raised the Council’s failure to consider options put forward such as for the centre to be taken over by Blackwood Town Council;.
“When presented with these arguments the Council rapidy backed down. It was evident that the council recognised the need to reconsider its decision to ensure it reached a more fair and informed conclusion.
“We are delighted for the many dedicated campaigners whose hard work helped to save this treasured leisure centre.”
Michael Imperato is a partner at Watkins & Gunn with extensive experience covering some of Wales’s most complex legal cases. Alongside being a specialist in Public Law, he also heads up the Education and Administrative Law departments, offering his expertise in group actions to local authorities, educational institutions, and youth organisations.