South West Wales

Fire-hit Aberavon Afan Lido replacement plans spark row

A plan of how the new leisure centre would look on the proposed site
Image caption A drawing of how the new leisure centre would look on the Hollywood Park site

Opposition is growing against plans for a smaller version of a seafront leisure centre which was destroyed by fire just over two years ago.

Neath Port Talbot council wants to spend £13.6m on a new six-lane swimming pool, sports hall and community centre to replace the Afan Lido in Aberavon.

But campaigners want the pool to have eight lanes, a bigger sports hall and room for spectators.

The council said the cost and design would be part of a consultation.

The campaigners claim their ideas could be incorporated for less than what the council plans to spend.

"We just want them to get it right," said Harry Worth, chairman of Aberavon lifeguard club.

"We want the local community to have their say. We called a public meeting this week so the local community could express their concerns.

"About 300 turned up and they were unanimous that they wanted an eight-lane pool and spectator terrace.

"There were some council members there and we wanted the council to understand the level of feeling in the local community."

'All over the place'

Phil Robinson, secretary of Afan Lido FC, which is next to the old site, also backs the appeal.

"The thing we are concerned about is the sports hall is not big enough - it's a sports hall with room for one five-a-side court and without spectators," he said.

"We have hundreds of kids. We have children aged three, four, five, six, seven but if you brought your child, you cannot watch them.

"In the old place we had two courts and there was 700 seats. All we are asking is for it to be as it was with the equivalent of two five-a-side courts and have about 100 seats.

"Since the fire, our kids are all over the place. We are hiring a local boys club and school halls."

The Afan Lido was opened in 1965 by the Queen with Graham Jenkins, the brother of Hollywood star Richard Burton, its first manager.

Over the years, the venue was able to host large-scale concerts, and the bands who played there crossed musical eras, from Spencer Davies to Pink Floyd and more recently Coldplay and McFly.

But in December 2009, homes were evacuated and roads closed as more than 100 firefighters tackled a large blaze at the lido.

At the height of the blaze in December 2009, 17 fire vehicles were deployed and crews were unable to enter the the leisure centre once the flames broke through the roof.

The gutted building was flattened at the end of last year after asbestos delayed clearing the site.

A total of 2,628 people took part in a Neath Port Talbot council consultation on replacing the Afan Lido.

Although many people said they would like to see an identical rebuild, the council said it was costing £700,000 a year to keep the old lido going before its demise.

Image caption These were the original plans for a new leisure centre on the old site

Instead, it is proposing a new 25m six-lane swimming pool to replace the Aquadome water attraction and slides that used to exist.

There will also be a four court indoor sports hall and new community facilities.

Sandfields library and lifelong learning centre will move to the site once it is completed.

Councillors have been told the total project cost had been budgeted at £13.6m and wanted to have it open by 2013.

'Good facility'

Since the consultation, Neath Port Talbot has begun negotiations with a private company to move the replacement leisure centre to the neighbouring Hollywood Park complex.

The plan would be to house the six-lane pool in the unopened bowling alley with the rest of the replacement centre built alongside it and linked to a cinema which already exists.

BBC Wales understands another consultation exercise on the new location is likely to happen after the council elections in May.

"I understand the council wants to do something with the Hollywood bowl and we are not opposing that but we wanted to make sure the main function of replacing the Afan Lido is not lost," Mr Worth added.

"We want to make sure the local people have a good facility for many years."

Mr Worth said a new leisure centre with an eight-lane pool in Haverfordwest cost just over £8m and feels a similar project could be done in Aberavon.

A Neath Port Talbot Council spokesperson said: "The cost and design of the new Afan Lido will fall out of the consultation and procurement process that the council is currently proceeding with."

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