‘A sad day for our towns’: campaigners’ disappointment at pools shutting

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Campaigners who fought to save leisure centres in Castleford and Knottingley have expressed their sadness after Wakefield Council announced it would go ahead with plans to shut both facilities.

Campaigners who fought to save leisure centres in Castleford and Knottingley have expressed their sadness after Wakefield Council announced it would go ahead with plans to shut both facilities.

More than 4,200 people signed two separate petitions to keep Castleford Swimming Pool and Knottingley Sports Centre open.

But despite their best efforts, which included protests in both towns, the authority revealed yesterday that it was moving forward with the controversial, cost-cutting closures.

And the leisure centres will shut on February 3.

Tracy Macinnes, a volunteer at Knottingley Swimming Club, which is based at the town’s pool said: “It was a very sad day for the swimming club and the town of Knottingley.

“We are hugely disappointed that Wakefield Council did not listen to the wishes of the future generation and their constituents.

“There will be a whole generation of children in the Knottingley area that will miss out on the chance to learn to swim, an essential life skill in a town with a canal and river.”

Proposals to close the two pools were first announced in September, alongside plans to build a new £14.8m leisure centre in Pontefract Park.

The new facility, which will include a ten-lane swimming pool, gym and exercise studios and a climbing activity, will replace both the existing leisure centres, as well as the current Pontefract Pool, which will remain open until around the time the new centre is built.

The proposals angered many, who fear the closures will limit access for the young, old and disabled who may be unable to travel.

Other concerns have also been raised over the capacity at alternative leisure facilities and the loss of local amenities, which campaigners fear will make it more inconvenient for people to exercise.

Andy Tagger, who championed keeping both leisure centres opened, said: “The closures are going to happen before the planning application has even gone in for the new site, which is a big frustration.

“And there’s going to be a lot of people wanting to use the Pontefract Pool for a long time.”

He added: “It’s going to be tricky for the youngsters. Children are going to have to travel further and the times might not be convenient for teachers and schools.

“That is just one respect in which I am sad and disappointed.”

Mrs Macinnes said the impact of the closures could lead to a drop in members at the 45-year-old Knottingley Swimming Club, putting its future under threat.

She said: “The club have been allocated reduced time at Pontefract Pool, which we are grateful for, but it is not ideal.

“Wakefield Council have also stated we are no longer allowed to teach non-swimmers. The council have agreed to pass on children from their lessons, once they have attained a certain level, but with Knottingley and Castleford closing, and Pontefract at full capacity and unable to offer additional places, these numbers will be small.

“With no new members coming in to be taught to swim, the club’s future doesn’t look bright. That said, we will endeavour to promote the club, keep current members swimming, and welcome new ones into our friendly swimming club in circumstances that are not ideal.”

Mr Tagger said campaigners had been told that two independent parties had inquired about taking over Knottingley Sports Centre.

And he said he was frustrated more time had not been given to explore whether the facility could be transferred to the community.

He said: “We were thinking the council would at least wait until they explored the asset transfer option because that appears to be a sort of plan B.

“We also thought there might be a possibility to keep the pools open until the end of the financial year.

“I recognise that the council is under financial pressure and is having budget cuts from national government but it is responsible for its own actions and for the sake of a few weeks, it seems a little premature to close the pools so soon.”

The council said keeping the Knottingley site, built in 1969, and Castleford pool, built in 1983, open “in their current dilapidated state” was costing £750k per year.

Coun Les Shaw, cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport said: “We fully understand there will be some disappointment about the closures.

Ideally, we would have liked to keep all the existing facilities open until the new leisure centre is built. However, this is now impossible because of the relentless cuts to our budget.”