In many of our local villages and towns, leisure centres are the beating heart of the community. They are a place for families to teach their children to swim and to learn to play sports. They are somewhere for the young and old to enjoy themselves with friends while leading an active lifestyle.
That is why we strongly oppose the potential closure of leisure centres in Islwyn. They are too important to close and their loss would be deeply and widely felt across the community.
In Caerphilly County Borough Council’s draft Sports and Active Recreation Strategy, the Council point out that 74% of adults in the County Borough do not meet national physical activity guidelines. Over half of the adults in the County Borough are overweight.
They go on to record the fact that the percentage of adults who are overweight or obese is 4% higher than the Wales average and, on present trends, by 2050 60% of adult men, 50% of adult women and 25% of children will be obese.
The link between exercise and health, including mental health, is clear and well-established. It is vital that residents have the best possible access to sports and physical activities. This is what leisure centres are about.
A Council Scrutiny Committee report in June this year showed Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre was visited over 74,000 times in 2017-18. Cefn Fforest Leisure Centre and its pool were visited over 66,000 times. They are well-used, well-loved, well-established and vital community facilities.
Schools in the local area make considerable use of both leisure centres. If the leisure centres were to close it is the young generations that will be disadvantaged because of the effects on their health and wellbeing.
Every time these two leisure centres have been marked for closure, the community has rallied to their defence. The strength of feeling among residents and their elected representatives, in opposition to closures, is very high. We hope the council will listen to them.
If these closures go ahead there will be no leisure facilities left for so many people who rely on them. And given the scale of development already taking place, it is even more important that these key leisure services are safeguarded for public use.
We know that times are difficult for local government, and they have to make eye-watering reductions in their budgets which result from cuts inflicted by an ideologically driven government in London led by Theresa May the Prime Minister.
Nobody can deny the challenges faced by local government. But closure of leisure centres would be a terrible retreat from good community standards. That is why imaginative and innovative solutions are more important now than ever before.
Caerphilly Council should look again at their closure plans and find a better way. They can and must find a solution which would at least preserve essential existing community facilities while making them more sustainable.
The plain fact is that if more people become unhealthy, through lack of exercise, already stretched health and social care services will be put under greater strain. Cuts to leisure services can quickly become a false economy, and Caerphilly Council must avoid falling into this trap.
Chris Evans, Member of Parliament for Islwyn
Rt. Hon. Lord Don Touhig, former MP for Islwyn (1995-2010)
Rt. Hon. Lord Neil Kinnock, former MP for Islwyn / Bedwellty (1970-1995) and Leader of the Opposition / Labour Party (1983-1992)