CAMPAIGNERS are celebrating after a High Court judge quashed a Caerphilly council decision that would have seen Pontllanfraith leisure centre close for good next Sunday.

The decision made by Mr Justice Jonathan Swift in Cardiff today does not mean that the centre has necessarily been saved for the long term, and the council appears set to pursue its closure again.

But it has been dealt a bloody nose by the judge's ruling, which in effect stated that the council had not taken into account the effect of closure on disadvantaged people in the Pontllanfraith area, as part of its Equality Duty.

Mr Justice Swift however, did rule that the council's sport and leisure strategy 2019-29 is lawful. Campaigners had argued that this too should be blocked.

Both sides in what has become an increasingly heated debate over the centre's future put their legal arguments for and against the closure proposal and the leisure strategy, at a hearing last week, ahead of today's judgement.

The campaigners had argued that the centre is a popular and vital community facility and the council's decision, and its wider sport and leisure strategy, were legally flawed.

Shane Williams, a regular user of the centre who has been at the forefront of the legal challenge, said he was pleased that the council will not now be able to close the leisure centre as it had planned, on June 30.

That decision - made by the cabinet in April - had until today been blocked anyway by a High Court injunction that Mr Justice Swift's ruling supercedes.

Mr Williams said there was disappointment at the ruling on the overall strategy, but he urged the council to now take heed of the depth of feeling in favour keeping the leisure centre open, and to look at ways that goal can be achieved.

"I would like to think that, given the response from the community, the council will look and listen to what people are saying. This is a vital asset for the community, and the community is willing to work to keep it open," said Mr Williams.

"I hope the council will at least listen and also seek a way to keep it open.

"They have never considered a Community Asset Transfer (which would enable the centre to remain open under community ownership) and we have looked at that.

"We have looked at every option and put it to them, but they have been determined to bulldoze the centre and give the land to developers.

"We hope they now act in the interests of the community."

Mr Williams acknowledged however that today's decision does not settle the issue - and the council appears prepared to revisit the issue.

"The High Court has ruled that the adoption by Cabinet of Caerphilly County Borough Council's sport and leisure strategy 2019-2029 (SARS) was lawful," a council statement reads.

"However, the judge determined that there was insufficient evidence to show that Cabinet complied with its Equality Duty when it took the decision to close Pontllanfraith leisure centre.

"The Judge did not agree with the council’s approach, that a single Equalities Impact Assessment for the SARS, was sufficient for decisions taken subsequently, and in accordance with, the SARS.

"The authority will now take steps to rectify this issue and prepare a separate Equalities Impact Assessment on the closure of Pontllanfraith leisure centre before any further decision is taken by Cabinet."

Council leader Cllr Dave Poole said that, regarding the council's compliance with its Equality Duty, "we will take steps to ensure that the correct procedures are followed in relation to future decisions by Cabinet where there are equalities implications.”

The debate over the centre's future and the council's sport and leisure strategy, has rumbled on for months with campaigners mobilising support from hundreds of centre users, and from across the political spectrum.

Islwyn MP Chris Evans (Labour) called today's ruling "a significant victory for the campaigners".

"This decision shows the Cabinet were wrong to close Pontllanfraith leisure centre," he said.

"Serious questions need to be asked why the Cabinet thought it was in their remit to make this decision.

"Whether in Westminster, Cardiff or Caerphilly, decisions need full scrutiny not simply nodded through by a small cabal of councillors appointed by the leader."

Mr Justice Swift ordered that the council meet 50 per cent of the cost of the legal challenge, a currently undisclosed figure, and Mr Evans added: "To a council looking to making savings, the decision of the Cabinet was a costly mistake which could have easily been avoided if only they had listened to the views of the community."

South Wales East AM Delyth Jewell (Plaid Cymru) also hailed the campaigners' efforts to secure over the closure ruling.  

“It’s quite shocking that the council failed to take into account its duties under the Equality Act when making the decision to close a valued local asset," she said.

“This suggests the plight of some of the most vulnerable people in society is not a primary concern to the Caerphilly council Cabinet, and people will rightly ask questions about where their priorities lie.

"Today’s ruling is a cause for celebration and the whole surrounding community will be very grateful to the campaigners for their success in saving the leisure centre.”