PROPOSALS to close several leisure centres across Caerphilly county borough would “systematically destroy communities”, a public meeting has heard.

More than 100 residents joined councillors at Cefn Fforest community centre to voice their anger against the council’s plans to overhaul sport, leisure and recreation services.

Caerphilly council wants to maintain four ‘strategic’ leisure centres in Caerphilly town, Risca, Newbridge and in Aberbargoed or Bargoed to service the entire borough.

Leisure centres in Cefn Fforest, Pontllanfraith, New Tredegar and Sue Noakes face the greatest risk of closure as local schools would be unable to assume management of the sites.

A petition against the strategy has drawn around 5,000 signatures, with Islwyn MP Chris Evans and predecessors Lords Kinnock and Touhig also voicing opposition earlier this week.

Speaking at the meeting on Wednesday, Councillor Kevin Etheridge announced plans to stage a protest march through Blackwood before cabinet meet on November 14.

“This should not just be decided by a few cabinet members, I want this to go to full council as I think every councillor in every ward should have a vote and speak on this,” said Cllr Etheridge.

The independent Blackwood councillor also described the 14-page consultation document, sent out in July, as “very intrusive” and asked why the council had not considered outsourcing leisure services.

Independent councillor Graham Simmonds argued that the consultation was “meaningless” and also questioned whether Newbridge and Heolddu leisure centres could handle the extra school swimming lessons if Cefn Fforest were to close. Currently six schools use Newbridge and 15 use Heolddu, while 14 schools depend on Cefn Fforest leisure centre.

“It’s plain lunacy, there’s no financial logic in this whatsoever,” he added.

Independent councillor Andrew Farina-Childs expressed fears that the uncertain futures for Cefn Fforest and Pontllanfraith – the closure of the latter having been averted last year – would be “catastrophic”.

He added: “What is going to happen to the schoolchildren using Cefn Fforest, where are they going to go? It’s just catastrophic, and it would systematically destroy our communities.”

The ward’s Labour councillor, Tom Williams, vowed to fight the plans and argued that the council should be investing more into its leisure centres.

Residents were in broad agreement with the views of the councillors, with one asking how the thousands of homes planned near Cefn Fforest and Pontllanfraith would be served. Concerns were also raised about the accessibility of leisure services for disabled children and elderly residents if Cefn Fforest were to close.

The 10-week consultation period for the draft sport, leisure and recreation strategy is due to end on September 21.

Speaking in June, Caerphilly council’s cabinet member for neighbourhood services, Councillor Nigel George, said: “[The council] operates more leisure centres than any other local authority throughout the whole of Wales.

“This is not a statutory service and unfortunately it is not something the authority can continue to do in the current financial climate.”