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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Community ‘heartbroken’ as campaigners respond to KAL’s leisure centre plans

Campaign groups in Kirklees have responded to the news that their local leisure centres have been dealt their fate, calling for leisure centres to be brought under council control.

Since it was announced in December that three of Kirklees’ leisure centres that are managed by Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL) would be ‘temporarily’ closing their doors, communities across the borough came together, campaigning to save their much-loved sports facilities. The three centres that faced closure were Batley Baths and Recreation Centre, Deighton Sports Arena and Colne Valley’s swimming pool.

Last week, the Local Democracy Reporting Service reported that Batley Baths will be permanently closing its doors. It was also brought to light that Deighton Sports Arena will be reopening for six months but with limited hours, though a date for this is yet to be announced.

This comes despite a £6m rescue package for KAL from Kirklees Council’s annual budget that was passed earlier this year. Colne Valley’s pool is the only site that is already back in operation.

Throughout the process, Deighton campaigners have stressed the importance of their leisure centre as a tool to redirect at-risk youths away from violence. Louise Lewis said on behalf of Save Deighton Sports Centre campaign group: “It is appalling that Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL) have failed to open Deighton Sports Arena already, despite them insisting that the closure would only be temporary until the end of March.

“Kirklees council has provided KAL with an injection of £6.1 million to support the sports centre. Despite this KAL have stated that the Council will only allow Deighton to open for 21 hours a week for only six months. They then want to wash their hands of Deighton just as they have done with Batley.

“They are more than willing to allow the community to take over should they wish. In my opinion, the local Councillors should be doing so much more to support the community and ensure the Sports Centre is reopened and remains open.

“Labour spoke as part of their campaign in the run up to local elections about the high knife crime in the area. Unfortunately, the answer to this in the councillors’ speeches was around increasing more community police on the ground which shows just how out of touch they are.

“What the area needs is the sports centre opening fully and back under the Council’s control. They need an increase in facilities for our young people in the Ashbrow area in order to provide them with more opportunities and to help divert them from senseless violence.

“We have been working closely with solicitors from Leigh Day who wrote to KAL with numerous questions. The took a considerable time to respond and failed to answer some of the questions asked, leaving the rest for the Council. Appallingly, the council has completely failed to respond.

“Now the elections are over, with Labour holding the majority, we want to see less photo opportunities and pretending everything is working well from our Councillors. We need to see a lot more work being done by Councillors to ensure Deighton Sports Arena as well Batley Baths are opened fully and permanently just as they have done for Colne Valley.

“The Council should take back full control of all the Leisure Centres in Kirklees and show the community why a vote for Labour is worthwhile. The Council say after 13 years of Conservative Government families in Kirklees are worse off.

“We say Labour in Kirklees at present is letting its community down in both Deighton and Batley.”

When asked whether the council plans to respond to the solicitor’s questions, a Kirklees Council spokesperson said: “The financial environment for leisure operators across the country continues to be extremely tough due to uncontrollable financial pressures. That is why the council agreed a £6 million support package for local leisure centres earlier this year.

“The funding has given KAL limited options to reverse some of the closures from last December, with Deighton Sports Arena to reopen on a partial basis for six months as long term options are assessed. KAL are currently finalising its plans and an announcement will be made in the coming weeks confirming the re-opening date.

“The council is aware of detailed questions submitted on behalf of the campaign group. A full response will be supplied shortly through the council’s Freedom of Information process.”

A spokesperson for the Save Batley Baths campaign said: “Days ago KAL announced the dreaded fate of Batley Baths. As a campaign of local users who rely on this service, we are heartbroken.

“The consultation delivered by KAL was poor. We believe this was deliberately to ensure the community’s voice was silenced, which led to misinformed and limited feedback.

“KAL’s mis-management and lack of leadership has failed Batley Baths and its users.

“Our campaign has not given up. We are now asking for Kirklees Council to bring this asset back into house. This will allow the council to fund and manage the building and service.

“Our community is high in deprivation and thanks to the cuts to service we’ve seen implemented for over a decade from Tory cutbacks, we simply cannot afford to lose anymore facilities.”

A spokesperson for KAL said: “KAL fully understand that some customers will be disappointed by the difficult decision to close Batley Baths & Recreation Centre.

“In terms of engagement with Batley Baths customers, KAL’s Chief Executive and Deputy Chief Executive attended two public meetings in January/ February 2023 to listen to the views of customers and community representatives and responded as far as possible to the items raised. Any follow up or additional communications from customers and community representatives have also been responded to.

“An engagement exercise was undertaken with registered customers to the site (i.e. fitness members, Flex Card holders, swimming lesson customers) in February 2023, with 277 responses received.  The engagement provided valuable feedback around adjustments to session types and availability to allow customers to continue their usage at other KAL managed facilities.

“Following customer feedback additional sessions, particularly to facilitate female only provision, have been added at other local KAL facilities, with further plans in place to develop these sessions to meet the needs of as wide a range of the community as possible.

“KAL will continue to work with customers impacted by the closure to provide and improve alternative provision at the remaining KAL sites in the local area and would welcome any further comments from customers.”

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