From Brian Mantel
The first point about Wiltshire Council’s vision for leisure is that they are clearly planning to ignore completely the views of the public who elect them. The plans are being presented as a fait accompli, with Council Leader Jane Scott saying. “We are not going to be able to deliver these services,” and “We will put them into a state of good repair before they go,” strongly implying that the decision has already been made.
In a council made up of a number of former local authorities, a review of provision makes sense, since centres near the borders of the old authorities could be too close together. It is also sensible to consider closures where a town has more than one centre. However, access to leisure facilities should not depend on car ownership, so the common sense approach in a large area like Wiltshire would be to provide a number of smaller centres within easy reach of local communities. Centres exactly like the Lime Kiln and the Springfield Centre, which I understand was North Wilts. only profitable facility.
What does not make sense is to build a series of super centres which appear to roughly follow the line of the A338, and, together with the existing facilities at Chippenham, would appear to leave West Wiltshire exceptionally well provided for, at the expense of the rest of the county, and, in particular, North Wilts. Trowbridge and Melksahm are only seven miles apart, so why do both require expensive new ‘community hubs’? This clear bias towards the west of the county warrants some serious investigation.
Whilst I have serious reservations about the whole plan, my immediate concern is the closure of the Lime Kiln Centre, a hugely important centre for swimming and martial arts, and home to Wiltshire’s fastest growing badminton club, as well as being the local secondary school’s sports facility and a vital resource for the health and well being of the community. If Wiltshire Council cannot afford to run these facilities, how does it expect to solve the problem by handing them over to unfunded community groups?
If the Council is really going to spend the money to put these centres into a good state of repair before handing them over, how are they saving money? Granted, they will not have the expense of running them, but the real issue is the avoidance of any major capital expenditure in the future. Wiltshire Council will, no doubt, paper over the cracks, but when one of the centres later requires major capital investment, like a new roof or pool plant, the Council will have washed its hands of any involvement.
No doubt Wiltshire will tell us that they have no statutory responsibility to provide leisure facilities; but in these days of increasing awareness of health and fitness issues, that really will not do. I am prepared to believe Councillor Scott when she says of the abandoned leisure facilities “We won’t just be walking away from them.” No indeed; it is readily apparent that Councillor Scott and her colleagues are running away from their moral, if not legal, responsibilities with considerable and unseemly haste.