Campaigners step up action to save threatened sports centre

Campaigners fighting to save a Leeds sports centre have stepped up their drive to keep it open.

South Leeds Sports Centre, which includes a swimming pool, is expected to close later this year unless a community operator is found to take over the running of the facility.

Leeds Council, which runs the centre, last year agreed plans to close the centre when the new Morley Leisure centre opens and concentrate leisure provision at the John Charles Centre for Sport and Morley.

The centre has already been saved from closure once following a campaign by people in the area who formed the action group Save our PooL And Sports Hall (Splash).

When it emerged that the centre was again facing an uncertain future, the campaign was re-launched last year and Splash became Splashback.

Campaigners met Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn and local councillors on Saturday on the steps of Leeds Civic Hall to hand over petitions and postcards signed by more than 2,000 people opposed to the plan.

The objections will be passed on to Leeds Council's executive member for leisure, councillor John Procter.

Splashback organiser Sally Cieslik said: "South Leeds is an area with a high percentage of health problems for residents of all ages. Leeds City Council should be encouraging the use of local sports facilities not taking them away. There is no other family-friendly pool for miles.

"The John Charles Centre is not easily accessible on public transport and is likely to be taken over by Olympic swimming teams from the middle of this year. The centre is used for many other activities too including some that keep young people healthy, engaged and off the streets.

"It looks ridiculous that the council should be closing a centre where there is so much deprivation and where people do not have cars. They cannot easily access other sports centres. You see mums pushing their children in pushchairs down there so they can give their children swimming lessons. That will all go."

Campaigner Phil Goodfield was one of the founders of the first protest group and is secretary of Beeston Broncos Junior Rugby League Team, which uses South Leeds Sports Centre's changing facilities when they play games.

The father of two said: "We will be absolutely devastated if the centre shuts because we will have nowhere to change, which means we will not be able to play our games on the sports fields next to the centre. We have to be able to prove that we can provide changing rooms and showers and this will be taken away if the centre shuts. The first time it was shut we had to play all our matches away which is not sustainable in the long term.

"The centre is in need of some investment but the council's position is that they have put money into other areas. Some areas are getting brand new sports centres and others are getting closed down.

"We would argue that every area of the city – especially Beeston if you look at the figures for poverty and deprivation – needs good sports facilities."

Councillor Adam Ogilvie (Beeston and Holbeck), Councillor Mohammed Iqbal (City and Hunslet) and Councillor David Congreve (Beeston and Holbeck) met with the campaigners on Saturday.

A spokeswoman for Leeds City Council said: "The executive board decision in August 2009 was clear that we would work towards securing a community operator for this site, and we are working closely with one particular party to develop their proposals further."

A new centre leisure centre in Morley is expected to open this summer and another new centre at Armley is scheduled to open in May.