While not in my constituency, a number of residents who live under Lichfield Council make use of the Friary Grange Leisure Centre for swimming and sporting activities.
In July, Lichfield District Council decided to hand back the leisure centre to Staffordshire County Council as they were unhappy with the poor condition of the building and the terms of the lease. To bring the build up to a good quality standard would need a heavy level of investment.
However closing the facility has met large opposition to residents who regularly use the site. From petitions to protests, residents living in Lichfield have made it clear that sports are a priority, it was great to see that even Olympic swimmers were backing keeping leisure facilities in Lichfield.
A special cabinet meeting was held in the Garrick Theatre which allowed many more of the public to attend and hear the proceedings as well as share their views with the Council's cabinet.
Two options were considered at the meeting: to continue with the July decision to stop running the centre and hand it back to the County Council or to keep it open but without the all weather pitch and sports hold and renegotiate a lease.
These two options were aimed keeping sport in the area. I understand that Lichfield District Council have now decided to renegotiate a shorter lease, whilst looking to procure and build a new facility. The Council have identified a figure of £5 million, which could help bring a new six-lane swimming pol to the area but to keep dry facilities such as sports pitches and courts, additional funding would need to be secured.
It is clear that the leisure centre has a positive huge impact on local people, be it groups like the Penguins disability swimming or for residents hoping to boost their health and wellbeing. The Council have listened and while they do not have the funding in place to build a whole new facility, they are looking at ways to borrow and generate the required funds to build a new complex whilst keeping most of the Friary Grange open in the interim.
I will continue to express the importance of having good access to sports facilities with both Councils but I am cautious that any facility needs to be safe, accessible and financially sustainable. The current agreement is a good compromise which enables many people to continue on with most of their regular sporting activities while new plans are put in place.