Sadness has swept through the Launceston community this week as they were told, after years of meetings and deals, Cornwall Council will no longer fund their beloved leisure centre, forcing it to close the doors in January 2023.

At the end of 2021, Cornwall Council announced that it would be handing the lease of Launceston Leisure Centre back to the owners of the building, the Coronation Park Trust.

All parties began working to find a viable solution to keep the facility open. However, it has not been possible to do so and  the centre will close on January 23.

In their announcement, Cornwall Council portfolio holder for customers, Richard Pears, said: “We have been working with the trust to explore options to keep the leisure centre open once the lease is handed back to them in 2023. We have helped fund this year-long extension in the hope that working together with the Trust a solution could be found. Unfortunately, they have not been able to find a workable and affordable solution to keep the leisure centre in Launceston open. 

“I would like to thank all the organisations and stakeholders involved for their efforts and commitment to trying to find a solution. 

“The council provided funding from reserves to keep the centre running until the lease expired but made it clear this would not be sustainable forever.” Richard added: “We have said all along that the Council is not able to provide funding to keep leisure centres open.

“As we explained at the beginning of this process, we, alongside other local authorities, need to make some difficult decisions to ensure our critical services and statutory obligations are met — bearing in mind that there is no statutory requirement for local authorities to provide leisure services.” 

The council says it will support the trust and GLL, who currently run the facility (and did not wish to comment), to decommission the leisure centre in Launceston and provide support for the affected staff. The council will also be working with local schools to find alternative facilities for swimming lessons.

However, the members of Coronation Park Trust who own the building, feel the council and GLL have “turned their backs” on the town.

Dave Gordon, Coronation Park Trust chairman, said: “The trustees are naturally disappointed to hear that both Cornwall Council and GLL have decided to turn their backs on leisure facilities in Launceston.”

The Trust won’t let this stop them though and they are keen to hear from potential providers who could help keep this facility running.

Mr Gordon continued: “Despite this news, the Trust are continuing to find a new provider for the leisure centre, and will continue to work hard towards achieving this goal. Since hearing the news back in November 2021 that Cornwall Council would not be renewing the lease with the Trust, we have been involved in attending many meetings, both with Cornwall Council and interested local parties, in an attempt to find a new provider before the deadline of January 23, 2023. Unfortunately this has not been achievable (to date). The centre has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair for some considerable time by Cornwall Council, who have consistently ignored the much-needed repairs, effectively running the centre down.

“Both the Trust and leisure centre staff highlighted these defects to Cornwall Council many times and found their failure to adhere to the lease unacceptable. Just one month ago the Trust was contacted by Cornwall Council on behalf of GLL, with a view to extending the GLL contract for a further 12 months to give us time to get together a working group for the centre and give the trustees further time to find a long-term solution for the centre and its staff. Last week the Trust was informed by Cornwall Council that the offer made to the Trust by GLL had been withdrawn, and a new proposal introduced. The Trust was being asked to agree to an open-ended contract to support GLL with any losses they made.

“To date the trustees are still involved in speaking to interested parties and we will continue to do so in order to secure our much needed and used leisure centre.”

Due to the uncertainty ahead, the Trust are advising people to think carefully about renewing their membership. Mr Gordon added: “I would like to stress at this point to the current users of the centre, about renewing their annual membership. As the centre’s lease expires on January 23, 2023, it may be unwise to renew membership in this uncertain period. Naturally we want the current users to continue to use Launceston Leisure Centre in the future, and we hope to be able to make a more positive statement in the near future. The centre and the pool are vitally important to our community, and as trustees of Coronation Park we will strive to make this much-needed facility remain in Launceston.”

Many share the Trust’s frustration and Adrian Parsons, Cornwall Councillor for Altarnun and Stoke Climsland (Lib Dem), said he feels the town has been “cut adrift”.

He said: “It has become blatantly obvious that Launceston has been cut adrift by the Conservative administration at Cornwall Council, as we have now heard Launceston Leisure Centre is due to close early next year. I feel the Coronation Park Trust have been put in an unenviable position having to try and find a possible new service provider at a time of such economic uncertainty and escalating energy costs.

“Promises of support have come to nothing and we see a further continuation of the mismanagement of the council finances. Those who can least afford it will miss out on the basic opportunity of having a swimming pool in their local town. At the very least the Council should provide extra ongoing funding to keep the leisure centre open as they do for others throughout the Duchy, as there is still hope a suiter could be found.”

Cornwall Councillor for Launceston North and North Petherwin, Adam Paynter (Ind), added: “I was very disappointed when the Tory administration at County Hall said they would not support Launceston Leisure Centre and hand the keys back to the park trustees over a year ago. Unfortunately efforts to find someone to run the centre have been unsuccessful due to the increasing energy costs. We hope that now news of closure is confirmed, other people will come forward to run the centre.”

Launceston South’s Conservative Cornwall Councillor John Conway has been contacted for comment.

However, in true Launceston-style, the town have come together and are preparing to fight this decision and save their centre.

A protest was held at the weekend and a petition launched by centre-user Andrea Roberts, of South Petherwin, who feels very strongly about the affects this closure will have on the community.

She told the Post: “It’s a travesty. I know it’s been on the cards for a while but its so short sighted of the council to not keep this vital facility running.

“Many local schools use it for swimming lessons. It is an important life skill. Schools can’t afford to transport pupils to places like Bodmin, Bude or Liskeard for swimming lessons — a key part of their curriculum. It will be interesting to see how Cornwall Council fund the transport for primary schools.

“I’m interested to know how this fits in with Cornwall Council’s plans to be carbon zero by 2030. How is it sustainable to send people off for swimming lessons, how does that fit in with their agenda?

“I myself have been a member for around four or five years and use the centre about five times a week. I have joined classes, use the pool etcetera. It is a real social hub, with people from all walks of life coming together. I have seen people using it to combat their own social isolation and it has become part of their day to day life — that is so important in the wake of the recent pandemic.

“The facility is pretty town central, making it accessible to those who perhaps can’t afford a car or don’t have time or money to catch a bus. They said footfall was low but since the end of the pandemic I have seen more and more people using the centre. Classes are fully booked, you have swimming clubs, schools, gym sessions — it’s a lot of local people.

“I appreciate there is a financial aspect to this but what bothers me is the council have millions to spend subsidising Newquay Airport but don’t have £100,000 to save this vital facility? It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

When asked why she set up the petition and what she hopes can be gained from this action, Andrea said: “There are two reasons really. Firstly, I wanted to highlight the fact the centre will be closing. I don’t think Cornwall Council publicised the issue widely enough and wanted to make those who will be affected aware.

“Secondly, at the end of the day we are Cornish tax payers and we should have a voice to say to the council this is really important — we need the leisure centre and we need to try and come up with a better solution.

“We need to show them we won’t go down without a fight!”

The petition has exceeded its initial target and has already reached 2,827 signatures.

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