Nick Chaffey, Southampton Socialist Party
Southampton Tory council closed St Marys Leisure Centre on 22 December, locking out hundreds of users. They falsely claim that the building requires “millions” to maintain.
The decision has been met with widespread anger. Campaigners gained coverage for the fight to keep the centre open, with interviews on local TV, radio and in the local press. The petition is gaining support, hundreds have filled in the councils’ consultation opposing closure, and hundreds attended a protest on 23 January.
The campaign has taken a clear position, arguing that to have any sustainable future the centre should remain as a council-funded, council-run community sports and leisure facility. It’s clear this has widespread support.
While the Labour Party has given support to the campaign, and called the latest protest, it has refused to back the campaign call for council funding and remaining a council facility. This is because when Labour was in control of the council it attempted to farm St Mary’s out to the private sector.
With no takers accepted, Labour lost control of the council, with no plan in place to keep the centre going. This has been used by the Tories, unjustifiably, to undermine the case for the centre.
The centre remains popular. Despite being an old building, it remains safe to use.
Incredibly, the council already has £148,000 allocated to run the centre until March. Yet they have closed it, losing potential income at the same time. Madness!
The consultation has now ended. Campaigners are seeking a meeting with the council to discuss its plans.
A freedom of information request has revealed that the council has no surveys of the building to back up its claims that ‘millions’ are needed. We demand the Tory council withdraws its claims.
Socialist Party members have played a key role in launching this campaign, working with user groups, the local community and building support for the centre’s future. A community march is now being organised to build support and to increase pressure on the council.
We call on local Labour councillors to come out publicly to support the call for the centre to remain with the council. If they took a clear no-cuts position on the centre, and backed reversing the recent council cuts, Labour would have a strong chance of rewinning control of the council, and therefore keeping the centre open.
But it’s unlikely Labour will take this stand. After controlling the council for nine years, Labour lost seven seats last May as a result of carrying out massive cuts. This included cuts to the local youth club, which was then handed over to the YMCA to run, leaving the building massively underused. Many conclude that Labour’s support for the campaign is lukewarm.
Socialist Party members are making the case to stand anti-cuts candidates across the city as the only way to build a real alternative to the ongoing cuts to council jobs and services. This campaign shows how a wider mass movement could be built to restore the £60 million of government funding stolen from Southampton.
Southampton TUSC meeting: How can we reverse council cuts? Saturday 29 January, 2pm, Friends Meeting House, 1A, Ordnance Rd, SO15 2AZ