Protesters made passionate pleas for two Huddersfield leisure facilities to remain open amid a financial crisis engulfing the charitable trust which runs the district’s sports centres.
Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL) sparked anger in Slaithwaite and Deighton when facilities were shut down for three months without consultation and with little notice.
KAL closed the swimming pool at Colne Valley Leisure Centre in Slaithwaite, Deighton Sports Arena and Batley Baths and Recreation Centre on December 16 until the end of March amid spiralling energy costs. Officials described the closures as “temporary” but campaigners fear the facilities may not re-open.
Campaigners from Save our Colne Valley Swimming Pool staged a protest outside Huddersfield Town Hall and then addressed councillors at a full meeting of Kirklees Council.
There was also a deputation from Save Deighton Sports Centre who spoke about the devastating impact on the local community.
Speaking outside, Pat Jones said the closure of the Slaithwaite pool was not just harmful to people’s physical health but their mental and emotional well-being too.
“It’s so short-sighted and will put more strain on health services,” she said. She feared for the safety of children if swimming lessons weren’t restored locally.
Inside the meeting Slaithwaite campaigners spoke about their health fears. A disabled woman, who used the pool twice a week, said the closure of Slaithwaite had taken away her independence.
Another speaker, Victoria Minton, said with so much open water around the Colne Valley, swimming was a life-saving skill and she warned of a “whole population in jeopardy.”
The Deighton campaigners told how the arena kept young people off the streets and out of trouble. They feared youngsters could be lured into crime and anti-social behaviour.
Basil Richards, who runs the Deighton Into Sport Project, which has 285 young people in 11 junior football teams, said his project was an example of how lives could be turned around.
“We currently have 24 young players with professional Academy teams that we have helped to develop over the years,” he said.
“A lot of my role models have made bad decisions in the past, been in trouble with the authorities and changed their lives around. We have put them through Sport England sports qualifications and they have been perfect role models.
“We are homeless and we have 285 young people from five years old part of our football club. I have had parents and kids on the phone in tears. It’s devastating. We really need the arena to re-open because of previous issues in Deighton.”
A member of the campaign group said they had spoken to a solicitor and were considering a judicial review into the decision. She also questioned why the council was no longer willing to fund KAL and said the council should consider taking back control of leisure centres.
Clr Paul Davies, Cabinet member for corporate services, praised the “fantastic” work of groups in Deighton and said he understood the passions and concerns. “We are listening and your voices are being heard,” he added.
Clr Davies said: “There are three sites affected and each of those are playing important roles in their communities. The temporary closure of the three sites is an operational decision for KAL. They operate the services across Kirklees and are set up as a charitable organisation.
“Although I can’t speak on behalf of KAL I know they didn’t come to any of these decisions easily. The situation they find themselves in, because of the financial issues that they are facing, they clearly had to look at some element of cost cutting.
“They went through a whole range of alternatives and options but, unfortunately, they came to a conclusion they had to have these temporary closures put in place.
“Clearly, they are going to be reviewing those during this period and also at the end of the financial year.
“KAL do face extraordinary challenges. The pandemic hit the leisure industry very hard and now we have the energy costs. It’s had a massive impact on the finances overall.
“We work closely with KAL because clearly it’s a partnership and over the last four years we, as an administration, have provided £11 million extra finance on top of the core grant. That has been a commitment we have shown. But the council is also facing financial challenges at this point and going forward.
“KAL is trying to look at a sustainable option going forward. Where they are at the moment is just not sustainable.
“This isn’t specific to Kirklees, it’s nationwide. It means KAL won’t be the first organisation to take this kind of action and it certainly won’t be the last.
“That’s why we are lobbying and need the Government to include swimming pools and leisure centres in its Energy Support Package beyond March. They have been excluded from that help that other businesses get. That confidence on energy prices is crucial for KAL so they can budget accordingly and balance services across Kirklees.
“We will continue as a council to engage with KAL as they review their finances. We are doing that already.
“We very quickly got the feeling of the community concerns and emotion and passion around these issues. I know KAL are very keen to work with the groups and we are encouraging them to work openly with the groups going forward.
“I can assure you your concerns will be raised in those discussions.”
Clr Davies thanked the Deighton community for the work they are doing, describing it as “extremely impressive” and of “huge value.”
Clr Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) said the council had nominated representatives on the KAL board and the public deserved to hear from them.
The council representatives are Clr Mohan Sokhal (Lab, Greenhead) and Clr Mark Thompson (Con, Birstall and Birkenshaw).
Clr Sokhal said: “Although we are nominated by the council we must always act in the best interests of the charitable organisation, according to charity law. There are some restrictions even if we are representing the council on there.
“So we are not allowed to share with the council any information presented to and discussed at the board meeting. If any member from the council or the public want any further information they can contact KAL direct.”