On Thursday 30th June 2011, the Labour council’s cabinet voted unanimously to close and demolish the entire Willfield centre and gym, including fitness centre and swimming pool. 
£925,500 was spent modernising this in 2005. The council have now betrayed their policy promise of retaining the fitness centre, set out in the approved Sports and Physical Activity Strategy (2009-2016).
This facility has been under threat from Labour for some time now, despite the Sentinel announcing, in line with Labour spin, that it would be saved .
I reported recently on the “March in Support of Willfield Gym” (blog link below), which was also reported in the Sentinel . I described in “Discovery Academy on Willfield” the devious Labour tactic used to disperse previous protest against its closure.
The gym was originally included within the site to be demolished to make way for the Discovery Academy. When Labour became aware that gym campaigners were joining forces with school campaigners who wanted a school on the Mitchell site instead of Willfield, they used divide and conquer techniques. They changed the academy boundary to leave the Willfield gym apparently outside the demolition area, to pacify the gym campaigners.
But the case put to cabinet  centred the reason for the gym closure on the academy; “construction of the new Discovery Academy on the Willfield site under the BSF Programme will significantly affect the continued provision of the Fitness Centre”. So redrawing the boundary is proven to be the con I always thought it was.
Before the 5th May 2011 local election, successful Labour candidates Alison Wedgwood and Sheila Pitt issued a leaflet with a huge headline “Willfield Gym Campaign Continues”. Their leaflet claimed “A decision on the Gym’s future has been postponed until the summer”. But the cabinet documents state that “The proposed closure of the entire Willfield site (Upper and Lower) was put forward as part of the budget savings, which were subsequently approved by the City Council on February 24 2011″. So they shouldn’t be having it both ways, claiming now that the closure was already approved but when it suits their election propaganda claiming the decision had been postponed! The council documents claim “Consultation has been carried out with both the staff and the public for the facility through the budget savings process.” And yet Labour are conning the public with election materials.
Sheila Pitt is quoted in the leaflet as saying about the Willfield gym “there is a clear need for this much loved facility to remain where it is”. This follows on from last year’s equally disingenuous statement from successful Labour candidate Mervin Smith’s election leaflet, where he said about Willfield; “shutting it is madness”, “we need to get the message over loud and clear; HANDS OFF!” I commented previously on his campaign in “Labour campaign in Bentilee ““ an outrage”. These are indeed most outrageous but predictably familiar Labour practices.
Alison and Sheila’s leaflet claims “Both Labour Council candidates, and MP Tristram Hunt are supporting the campaign to secure the long term future of the Willfield gym on its current site”. Well clearly Labour does not support the gym! The local election on 5th May 2011 resulted in a clear Labour majority on the council and success for Alison and Sheila. And yet in under 2 months Labour betrayal the public is proven (some of us realised all along this would happen). Issuing this leaflet is despicable deception of the voters at large.
Bizarre council claims
Incredulously the council documents claim that closing Willfield will result in “increased customer choice given the availability of several viable alternative facilities”! This sounds like typical Labour speak. How stupid do they really think we are? (Well”¦ I will come back to that one.) They mention other gyms at the Wallace Centre in Abbey Hulton, Fenton Manor and what they call “Body Base Gym” which they claim to be in Bentilee (Base Body Fitness actually declares itself to be in Longton ). But even taking these 3 existing gyms as relevant to the Bentilee community, going from 4 to 3 facilities for anyone with a grasp of basic arithmetic is a reduction, not an increase!
Other bizarre claims in the council document include one that they are somehow doing a good thing, “Ëœsaving’ demolition costs by including it within the academy work. This is the academy that school campaigners didn’t want on the site they didn’t want it, in the nonsensical merger of 2 schools 5 miles apart. So how about saving by not demolishing anything instead? How about keeping the gym and pool?
The 30th June 2011 cabinet meeting was packed with public observers who wanted the Willfield gym kept open. The Willfield closure was not put on the original agenda but instead introduced late as a supplementary item. At least the public were not fooled by this and got wind of it anyway. This item was dealt with early in the agenda.
Mohammed Pervez opened the meeting by telling us that no public could speak and he would not tolerate any disturbance at all.
Gwen Hassall thanked the public for their interest and claimed their concerns had been taken on board! She said the public would be aware that a new academy is to be built on “this site”. (Well with all the shenanigans over the site boundary I’m not so sure.) She said there would be a sports hall and gym in the academy that would provide some public use. She said cost implications of retaining the gym included moving the plant room and continuing subsidy. She said the city as a whole is being considered and sports facilities provided. “We have got to watch the budget” she said, then moved a motion to close Willfield. There was a statement of support from Paul Shotton, who referred to the building as dilapidated and said there will be dance, fitness and gym facilities in the new school available in the evenings and holidays. There were further statements of support from Sarah Hill and Debra Gratton.
Mohammed Pervez said as the item was urgent there would normally be no call-in but he was minded to allow this, Mark Meredith agreed.
Cabinet agreed unanimously to close Willfield.
The gym campaigners were well behaved and quiet during the proceedings although there were some angry comments made as they left after the decision.
Dave Conway and the City Independent Group will call the decision in but with Labour scrutinising their own decisions with such a majority, nothing can be done.
I learned some time ago about Labour’s lies and wrote about these last year, but many of the electorate have not realised how devious they are.
Sheila Pitt said in the election leaflet about herself and Alison Wedgwood “We are two strong women who will get the job done”. They did a job on the electorate all right. And what strength is there in allowing their Labour party to close the gym they were supposed to be supporting?
Furthermore former mayor Mark Meredith and the former Labour government stole away our democracy and reduced our local elections to only 1 every 4 years. So there is no early chance to change this despicable Labour council.
In Bentilee and Ubberley the turkeys voted for Christmas and are now well and truly stuffed!
Picture Credit Steve Birks