Dozens of angry swimmers yesterday lined the street outside Cardiff’s oldest pool to protest against money-saving plans to close the much-loved facility.
Splott swimming pool has been earmarked for closure in order to save £300,000 a year, as part of budget cuts worth £22 million announced by Cardiff Council last Thursday.
Local campaigner Bablin Molik organised a petition to fight the proposed closure. “There has been an uproar – there is so much anger in the community,” she said.
She added that the petition against the closure had already received about 500 signatures before the protest.
“The pool has been part of the community for so long. It’s an integral part of people’s lives,” she said.
Splott swimming pool, which was originally an open air facility, was built in 1976 and is Cardiff’s oldest pool.
Andrew Price, 63, has lived in Splott for 41 years. “My whole family has grown up using the pool. It would be a terrible shame to see it close,” he said.
Christine Thomson, 49, who has lived in Tremorfa since she was born, said she was shocked by the proposals.
“I could not believe it when I found out about the cuts. I think it is disgusting,” she said.
“My granddaughter is visually impaired and she comes for one-to-one sessions. All the disabled schools use the facility because it’s so well-equipped. I don’t know what they would do without it,” she added.
“This is going to affect so many kids’ lives. This is all they’ve got. If they close the pool, they will be left hanging around on the streets.”
Mother-of-four Jenny Ashton, 28, of Tremorfa, said: “I am disgusted. They just keep taking more and more things away from us. It would rip the heart out of the community.”
She added: “My kids love to come swimming. We spend so much time here in the holidays. My eldest is eight and he learnt to swim here. He was looking forward to having a pool party for his birthday. I want my other kids to learn to swim here too.”
Claire Eley, 42, of Splott, said the pool was a lifeline for elderly and vulnerable people. “My mother is 72 and she looks forward to coming swimming every week,” she said.
Councillor Huw Thomas, cabinet member for sports, leisure and culture said he was “personally devastated” about the proposals for the pool, but added the budget aimed to protect the most vulnerable people in the city.
Other cuts proposed under the council’s draft budget for 2013/2014 include reducing library opening hours, closing community halls, shutting The Hayes public toilets, and selling off Flat Holm Island.
The local authority is also planning to withdraw financial support from Cardiff Riding School. Coun Russell Goodway, Cardiff’s cabinet member for finance, told councillors last week that he wanted to find an external party to take over the Pontcanna stables, but there are fears the school could close.
Last night, around 150 people – including staff, volunteers and riders from the stables – gathered at The Cameo Club in Pontcanna Street to discuss how to take their campaign forward to save the riding school.
Liz Dance, who leads one of the stable’s four Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) groups, told the meeting they provided riding lessons for disabled youngsters 50 weeks of the year, and have done so since 1977.
She said: “Hundreds have been helped over the years. One little boy does not get himself dressed any day of the week except Thursday, when he knows he’s coming to the riding school. We have a little girl who could not sit up – she can now sit up on her own and hold the reins.
“I went to City Hall and spoke to councillors, and the question that they asked me was what would happen to your group [if the stables were to close]? It would stop. That’s the end of it. “
Rhys Roberts, a father whose 14-year-old daughter has cerebral palsy and epilepsy and has ridden at the school since she was seven, told the meeting she had developed “tremendously” on the horses.
He said: “The work they do there is immense. They’re incredible people. They could actually do with another four [RDA] groups – they’re over-subscribed. “
Various ideas were put forward by members of the audience for how the riding school could keep going in the event that the council does push ahead with its funding cut, including running the stables as a trust, or looking to a social enterprise model. But the majority of people in the audience expressed a wish to keep the school under council control.
Political lobbyist Leigh-Catherine Salway, who has previously ridden at the stables, urged campaigners not to give up.
She said: “You have a choice, you have a voice. The disabled users, the horses, and the workers do not.
“Lobby everyone you can, whether it’s at a national level or a grass roots level, county level or Assembly level.
“Many of you here have different skills that you can bring to a working group. Use them to get what you want – to get the riding school saved and remain with the council.”
Riders, parents and volunteers at the stables have agreed to form a committee to campaign against the council’s proposals, and are continuing to collect signatures for a petition, which has already collected almost 2,500 signatures online.
On Sunday night, more than 200 people attended a public meeting at Y Mochyn Du to discuss the withdrawal of a £20,000 council grant normally given to charity Menter Caerdydd to support Tafwyl – Cardiff’s only Welsh language music festival.
Menter Caerdydd’s chief executive Sian Lewis said she was heartened by the number of people who attended the meeting, and they would now be putting their efforts into a petition calling on Cardiff Council to reverse its proposal.
She said: “We were not expecting a cut like that at all. I was so disappointed because we have had a continuous dialogue with Councillor Huw Thomas [cabinet member for sport leisure and culture] with regards to Tafwyl, and were given no inclination that we were facing a cut, let alone 100 per cent. We’d actually asked for a £5,000 increase, so the discussions had been around that.”
Sian said that the £20,000 they normally receive from the council represented around 35% of the total budget for Tafwyl.
She said: “We are third sector. We are aware of how to spend on a small budget. But Friday afternoon we were looking at ways we could cut back, and realistically there’s no way we can cut back on £20,000. At the moment, unless we can convince the Labour administration to reverse their decision, it does not look like Tafwyl could proceed.”
Plaid Cymru councillor Neil McEvoy, who also attended the meeting at Y Mochyn Du, said the festival “must be saved”.
He said he believed the Labour party was beginning to “take steps back” from some of the proposed cuts after seeing the strength of local opposition, adding that if people were not satisfied with the final budget approved by councillors, he would consider calling referendums in wards across the city.
He described many of the cuts as “unnecessary”, pointing out that raising council tax in line with inflation would raise £3.5 million – costing the average Band D tax payer just an extra 49p a week.
He also called on the Labour administration to scrap its controversial management restructure.
He said: “If I sat down and had responsibily for this budget, I could find £6 million tomorrow which we would not have to cut.”
In Ely, residents are also setting up a petition in an attempt to save their local bowling green. The draft budget sets out plans to save £22,000 by reducing the number of council-run bowling greens for 13 to seven, with Grange Gardens, Howard Gardens, Pentwyn, Llwynfedw Gardens, Maindy and Trelai all earmarked for closure.
Gerald Jones, 65, said members of the Caerau Ely Bowling Club, who play at Trelai, had already collected 500 signatures opposing the closure of their local facility.
Gerald, who is one of a number of men who set up the club around 18 months ago, said: “We know times are hard, but the difficulty is that when things improve, they won’t reinstate the bowls.
“People are living longer, they’re saying older people need more exercise, and it’s great exercise for us.
“Closing it would save them just £1,800. It’s a facility they intend to take away to save a pittance.”