People at a packed public meeting at Harlech and Ardudwy Leisure (HAL) Centre on Sunday heard that three out of seven local community councils have decided to redirect money that previously supported swimming and other activities held there.

HAL has been told that community councils in Talsarnau, Llanbedr and Dyffryn Ardudwy & Talybont no longer want to fund the pool from 31 March and will instead be using the money for local projects such as improving a car park.

HAL leisure centre was packed with people concerned about the future of the venue
HAL leisure centre was packed with people concerned about the future of the venue (Picture supplied)

The unintended consequence of this has resulted in a reduction of over £30,000 to the annual income stream needed for the day-to-day running of the HAL, a shortfall that cannot be made up by the community councils continuing to support the centre, placing it at risk of closure.

Members of the public said they were angry at those councils that are supposed to represent the local community, and failed in their responsibility to consult with them and act in their best interests.

Heidi Vaughan Williams chaired the public meeting where volunteer board members updated those present about the present condition of HAL and its plans for the future that cannot be actioned without further precept funding from local communities.

Also present was MP Liz Saville Roberts and county councillor Gwynfor Owen. Invitations had been extended to members of local community councils but only representatives from Harlech attended.

HAL was established in 2021. It offers private lessons to people of all ages, confidence lessons for those aged three plus, hosts a youth group - the only youth one in the Ardudwy area - lifeguard training and an over 60s group. Harlech swimming pool opened 60 years ago. Before then, anyone needing lessons had to travel to Bangor. Many didn’t and people drowned, leading to a campaign for a swimming pool in Harlech. Since then local children have been taught a basic skill essential for coastal areas, saving lives. Supporters say closure sets the scene for the avoidable drownings that caused the pool to be opened in the first place.

Harlech leisure centre could be forced to close

Heidi said ongoing precept funding buys time to reap the benefits of short, medium and long term development plans that include reopening of the cafe, essential repairs to a corridor leading to the climbing wall enabling the climbing wall to reopen, the completion of a structural and energy survey that will lead to grant applications for roof solar panels that will reduce energy costs and of equal importance the leisure centre will then be able to generate local employment with up to 18 jobs being created. This fact is in stark comparison to the impact of redirected community council funds that will not generate any local employment. To move these and other plans forward a professional business plan is being developed. But all these developments will have to be put on pause as without precept funding HAL cannot continue to operate.

Members of the public voiced their wish to volunteer to get the cafe open before Easter and a list of names taken.

HAL also has a crucial role in staging the annual Triathlon and Aquathon that attracts participants from all over the country giving a much-needed boost to local hospitality businesses. The organisers are now exploring the opportunity to stage this prestigious and profitable annual event in Conwy.

Cllr Gwynfor Owen spoke passionately about the need to secure the future of this local asset saying it saves lives, has a vital role in keeping the wider community of Ardudwy healthy and provides essential activities for children of all ages that once lost, will be forever lost.

Gwynedd Council also makes a financial contribution and Cllr Owen urged those present to write to their local community councils to ask them to continue precept funding that costs as little at the £28 per household per year.

Supporters want local community councils to reconsider their vote to stop precept support as they failed to consult the communities they represent, for HAL to initiate an online survey for residents of the communities whose councillors failed to consult asking residents whether they want their community councils to take this action that will close their leisure centre or whether they want their local community council to provide the necessary financial precept support to keep it open.

A further public meeting will be convened when the outcome of these efforts are known.

Resident Rosy Berry said: “Harlech Community Council was well represented, but the failure of any council members from the other communities along the coast was described as “a disgrace”, while the lack of public consultation before withdrawing the precept supporting the centre was deemed “shameful”. Without donations from all councils, Ardudwy’s pool may not survive.

“New board members always welcome!”

Mrs Saville Roberts said: “It was good to see such a strong turnout at Harlech/Ardudwy Leisure Centre. Everyone was very engaged with how the not-for-profit company operated, and unanimously wanted the pool to remain viable now and in future.

“It’s important that everybody in the area appreciates that £30,000 of revenue money needs to be found by April in order for the leisure centre to be able to continue to employ staff and stay open.

“There are exciting plans in future to seek means to produce energy and thus reduce costs, but the immediate crisis must be solved. The pool provides lessons for local primary schools, and Ysgol Ardudwy.

“It plays a key role in making sure that every child living in these coastal communities has the opportunity to gain life-saving swimming skills. This facility needs to be safeguarded.”

Cllr Gwynfor Owen said: “It was my pleasure to attend the meeting at the swimming pool as I believe it is my duty as a councillor to support all amenities and resources within my ward. I also am of the firm opinion that a swimming pool in a rural coastal area like ours is essential. It is essential for our children to help teach them to swim.

“We don’t want to read of any child having drowned in the future because there was nowhere for them to learn to swim. Swimming is also vital to the Healthy Living Agenda and has so many health benefits for so many people.

“Whilst I accept the right of community councils to decide whether they want to continue financing the swimming pool, I would like to thank Harlech and Llanfair Councils for continuing to support the pool but to ask the other councils to reconsider their decision and to carry on contributing what in reality is a very small proportion of their precept to enable the swimming pool to carry on operating. I would also like to thank Cyngor Gwynedd for their continued support.”