People on the Wirral’s largest housing estate said “there’s nothing left” as they mourn the loss of their leisure centre.
At a committee meeting on Tuesday, Wirral Council decided to not move ahead with community plans by Woodchurch Wellbeing to take over the leisure centre on the Woodchurch estate. This means the community facility will be demolished.
Woodchurch Leisure Centre closed down in 2022 as part of £20m budget cuts delivered that year. A Wirral Council report said the plans were not viable but at the committee Woodchurch Wellbeing criticised 'inaccuracies' and said it was “designed to create a narrative to fulfil a predetermined need for demolition."
The group had been given a target of raising £330,000 by the end of October but fell short of this, raising £83,000. The group insisted their plans could still work.
The council had been heavily subsidising the leisure centre and saved £402,000 a year by closing it in 2022. The report said the building “lacked significant investment over the years” and is “a costly building to operate because of its construction, layout and condition.”
People from the Woodchurch Estate who spoke to the Echo said the permanent loss of the leisure centre felt like just the latest cut in services in the area. A regular concern is that with nothing to do, children in the area will hang out on the streets, get in trouble and risk getting involved in organised crime groups.
Lynne Howe, one of Woodchurch Wellbeing's directors, said the group was disappointed with the outcome of the meeting and after consulting the local community, said they will decide on their next steps.
She said: “Against a backdrop of all of the social cuts that have been made, the community feel left behind. That is it in every sense and that obviously creates a certain level of frustration.
“We have put a lot of work into it bearing in mind that we all have full time jobs. It has been a collective effort firing out emails to community engagement and fundraising. It has taken a lot of time and energy.”
Matt Gibbs who runs the Carrbridge Centre, said: “It’s cuts, cuts, and cuts. Meanwhile we have got other areas like Birkenhead, Liscard, and it just feels like that forgotten estate in the middle.”
He added: “Elements of the community are definitely angry. The feeling is that if you look at the history of that leisure centre, it was 10 or 15 years of no investment. It is a prime example of how the community views the estate.
“The pitches are a great asset to the community but they still tie into what we haven’t got, which is the leisure centre.”
In 2022, Wirral Council approved plans for a £1.6m pitch and pavilion which are now nearly complete. These plans were largely funded through the Football Foundation with the council contributing £600,000.
Lynn Gallagher has lived on the Woodchurch for 11 years but used to go swimming at the baths as a child. She said: “There is nothing for the people out here. They spent all that money on the pitches but what about the people who do not play football?”
Lynn added: “We have got nothing on this estate for older people. It’s a shame on the council. People were raising money for it. We can’t go swimming now because the closest is West Kirby, Leasowe or Birkenhead but getting off this estate is absolutely horrendous.”
Local resident Simon Stringer said: “It’s obviously an eyesore. It looks like it does need demolishing. The thing is if it can’t be restored and it’s just left as it is, then that is no good. It’s a shame for this estate not to have a swimming pool and leisure facilities.”
Paul Salisbury added: “It’s a bit old and battered. We have been going there since I was a kid. It’s a bit of a shame for the area. I used to bring my kids here for swimming and karate.” He suggested a new community centre could later go on the site.
Louise Meers, the landlady at The Woodchurch pub , said: “It’s the same as everyone’s reaction. Everyone is absolutely gutted. There is nothing left for them, there’s nothing left for the kids
“All of the community came together and I think they have turned out to try and raise different funds but it obviously wasn’t enough. I think there was a bit of false hope, people really believed it was going to be saved. They deserve something, the estate deserves something.
“Everyone on the estate used it. I used to use those swimming baths all the time, it used to be chocker. It’s just a complete waste.”
She said when it was open, “you literally didn’t see the kids. Now all it is is sitting on the couch, going to the shops, and coming home. The worst thing about it is they would make a lot more money with the pitches down there.
“The council should have kept it open. They should never have cut it in the first place. They have taken everything away from the kids. All I get now from my daughter is that I am bored.”
The report the committee based their decision on said the council's finance director Matthew Bennett "advises that the business plan is not viable and that transferring this asset on the basis of it would be a very high risk for the Council.
"The council would be tied down to a long lease to an organisation which did not have a viable business plan and which might struggle to find the resources to keep the premises safe for public use over the duration of the lease.”
However Woodchurch Wellbeing said their five year forecast showed a consistent yearly surplus and the centre would only become unviable if income was 30% lower than expected. They had looked to earn money in eleven different ways including a cafe, restaurant, and community space with the pool bringing in the most money.
They planned to reopen the pool within six months and included costs of up to £170,000 for repairs and an additional £50,000 due to recent vandalism in their plans.
Wirral West MP Margaret Greenwood who previously raised the leisure centre’s future in Parliament said “This is devastating news. The people of Woodchurch deserve to have leisure services, including swimming pools, that are easily accessible to them. This is especially the case given that car ownership on the Woodchurch is below both the regional and the national average.
“Government cuts to Wirral Council since the Conservatives came to power have been brutal, and the outcome is a loss of important services.”
Ms Greenwood paid tribute to those who wanted to see it reopen, adding: “We need to see investment in public services so that everyone can enjoy them. The people of Woodchurch have been let down by years of Tory austerity.”