Councillors defiant over plan to shut Gosport leisure centre

From left, Charlotte Tipping from World Vision HQ, organiser of the lunch Sue Tinney, chef Sam Kemp, Alan Mak MP and Amy Johnson from the World Vision Advocacy Team 

Picture:  Malcolm Wells (170922-2862)

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ANGRY swimmers have lost their last-ditch bid to stop the early closure of Gosport’s leisure centre.

With five days to go before Gosport Borough Council closes the Holbrook Recreation Centre, 60 pool users marched through the town centre to protest against the decision.

PLEA Duty manager of the Holbrook centre Paul Clark with protesters. Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (122189-5)

PLEA Duty manager of the Holbrook centre Paul Clark with protesters. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (122189-5)

They rallied outside the town hall yesterday evening before a meeting took place for councillors and members of the public to have their say on the plans.

At the meeting councillors heard from leisure centre users, swimming coaches and the pool’s manager, who all called for the centre to remain open.

But the council’s ruling Tory party was resolute, claiming the building, in Forest Way, is unsafe.

Duty manager at the centre, Paul Clark, handed in a petition with more than 3,000 signatures on it calling for a U-turn on the closure.

He said: ‘Due to this decision families and children will have nowhere to go.

‘I want kids to have somewhere safe to swim this summer. The response from the public shows people care. We tried our best.’

Protester Yvonne Marks, 56, from Chantry Road, Gosport said: ‘I was absolutely disgusted about the closure because I have got a niece who has swimming lessons and the teachers up there have been fantastic.

‘I want to try and keep the centre open for as long as we can because it’s been good for my niece and it must be good for other people too.’

Gosport’s five-strong Labour group forced last night’s debate to take place after applying for an urgent council meeting.

They accused the council of making its decision behind closed doors.

Labour leader Cllr Dennis Wright said: ‘We had no opportunity whatsoever to discuss what was happening at Holbrook. This has been very badly handled.’

And Lib Dem Cllr Rob Hylands said: ‘I am totally gobsmacked at the way this has been done. This whole decision has made a mockery of democracy.’

The council’s Labour and Lib Dem groups called for the centre to stay open and maintenance work to be carried out on the building.

But their suggestion was defeated by the Conservatives, who instead voted to confirm the centre must close on Saturday.

The council leader, Cllr Mark Hook, said inspections in recent weeks have shown the building has deteriorated further.

He said: ‘I accept some people will find it difficult to take because all they want to do is swim. But we have a duty to the public. The right decision is it must close.’

Originally the pool was not to close until a few weeks before the town’s new leisure centre was completed later this year.

The council says it has arranged with Brune Park Community College to open its pool to the public during the summer holidays.

The Gosport Dolphins swimming club will also be given a grant from the council of £272 a week from the day the Holbrook centre closes.

This is to help cover extra costs involved in finding somewhere else to train until the new centre opens.