Why four leisure centres in Cornwall could close forever

Cornwall Council has asked members of the public to comment on the plans to close four leisure centres in Cornwall.

The council has launched a formal consultation about the possibility of closing the leisure centres in Falmouth, Launceston, Saltash and Wadebridge. The council also considering closing the hydrotherapy pool in St Austell.

Leisure centres owned by the council are currently operated by national organisation GLL under the name of Better.

However after experiencing difficulties due to a loss of income through the Covid-19 pandemic, GLL has asked Cornwall Council if it can stop operating the four centres and the hydrotherapy pool.

The consultation has started.

As part of its consultation, the council is asking people and organisations to come forward with ideas for how leisure services in Cornwall should be delivered.

The consultation document sets out the individual leisure centres and how the council sees them.

Ships and Castles in Falmouth

The council says it is “expensive to maintain” and has “constrained physical water space for swimming” which means it has a limited school offer with just five schools using it.

It says the centre is only profitable in the summer months and is mainly used by tourists rather than residents. It also says there is large competition for gyms and swimming pools in the area.

The council says there is a need for a facility in the Falmouth and Penryn area but the Ships and Castles site “lends itself to redevelopment to support the delivery of other council priorities”.

It adds: “Should the centre close we believe alternative provision is available within a 30-minute radius, including elsewhere in Falmouth or alternatively in Helston or Carn Brea.

Launceston Leisure Centre

The site is owned by a charity, Coronation Park Trust and the current lease runs out in January 2023. It says it aims to keep the centre open until then.

The council would then hand it back to the trust and they will decide the future of the centre. The authority said if the centre closes there are alternative facilities within a 30-minute radius.

Saltash Leisure Centre

The council says this has a “relatively small user base” and the “nature of the swimming and the additional lifeguards required make it expensive to operate”.

It says it is happy to devolve the centre and services to other organisations and says if the centre does close there are alternative facilities within a 30-minute radius such as Plymouth and Liskeard.

Wadebridge Leisure Centre

Cornwall Council says the centre is “not central and constrained by the school site and car parking”.

It says the catchment area is “small” and overlaps with other leisure provision including Bodmin Leisure Centre which is eight miles away. The council says the majority of daytime use is by the school reducing opportunities to generate income.

The council says it is happy to explore handing the centre or services to others to operate but says if it closes there are alternative facilities within a 30-minute radius.

Hydrotherapy pool, St Austell

The council says there is a state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pool at the Merlin Centre in Hewas Water.

The pool at St Austell is currently closed and it is proposed it will not reopen until further notice. The council says it is exploring viable alternatives and working with user groups and the Merlin Centre to discuss transition arrangements.

Consultation started on the 22 September and will run until 31 October. As well as an online survey the council is also holding a series of virtual meetings. These will be specific to the individual centres at risk.

They are as follows (all start at 7pm):

  • October 6 – Falmouth Ships and Castles Leisure Centre

  • October 7 – Launceston Leisure Centre

  • October 11 – Wadebridge Leisure Centre

  • October 13 – Saltash Leisure Centre

  • October 14 – Hydrotherapy Pool, St Austell

To register for the online meetings go to letstalk.cornwall.gov.uk/leisure or email leisureconsultation@cornwall.gov.uk before noon of the day of the meeting

The questionnaire is available at letstalk.cornwall.gov.uk/leisure or to get a paper copy call 0300 1234 100.

Cllr Richard Pears, portfolio holder for Customers at Cornwall Council, said: “Leisure activities have been a lifeline for so many of us over the last 18 months – whether that’s a trip to the gym or a walk in the park, it’s so important for our mental and physical wellbeing.

“However, there’s no denying that the last 18 months have been incredibly challenging, and despite support from the government we are facing some very real and very difficult financial decisions.

“I’m confident that by working together we can find solutions to these challenges.”

James Curry, GLL’s Head of Service for Cornwall, said: “In unprecedented times, these proposed changes are very much a last resort and follow a close review of all the options for us an operator.

“We will be supporting the council’s community consultation and hope it identifies suitable and sustainable alternative operating models for these centres.”

Credit: Richard Whitehouse, Local Democracy Reporter