Members of Whitworth Town Council have criticised district council leaders for their decision to close Whitworth Leisure Centre.

In May, Rossendale Council chiefs revealed Whitworth Leisure Centre would close in July citing the cost of living crisis, rising inflation and rising demands as primary reasons.

In a statement, members of Whitworth Town Council said they were shocked to find out the leisure centre was closing through social media posts and news articles.

They have since criticised Rossendale Council and Rossendale Leisure Trust for they way they have handled the situation.

Whitworth Town Councillors have accused council leaders of “breaching their own rules” and for “letting the people of Whitworth down” with “no apology”.

Rossendale Council said the decision to close Whitworth Leisure Centre was not an easy one, explaining councillors are happy to continue talks with the town council and residents, but the decision to close the leisure centre on July 21 remains. 

In a statement Whitworth Town Council said: “The members of Whitworth Town Council and local residents were shocked to find reports in the press and on social media on the morning of May 23, regarding the closure of Whitworth Leisure Centre.”

At a Rossendale Council meeting, held on June 28, councillors were invited to answer some questions submitted by local people.

Rossendale leaders have been accused of giving “evasive and repetitive” answers.

At the meeting, borough councillors said they only had one day to consider the Whitworth closure proposal in private and vote on its closure, instead of the standard five.

A spokesperson for Whitworth Town Council said: “Almost 100 Whitworth residents turned up to both protest the decision of closure and to offer support to those asking questions.

“The answers given by the council leader were at times evasive, repetitive, and bordering on truth.

“When asked how much time councillors had been given to consider the report, the answer was the standard amount of time, when pressed for what that meant, it was established that was normally five clear working days.

"It was revealed that only one working day had been given in this case. Clearly not adequate for members to read and question any points raised in the report and a breach of the councils own rules.”

Rossendale Council has defended its response to questions and said residents were given the opportunity to submit written questions before the meeting.

They said: “It was unfortunate some of the questions asked on the night differed from the ones originally submitted and we appreciate some people may have felt therefore their questions weren’t fully addressed.”

In response to the five day timeframe, a spokesperson said: “The council makes copies of the agendas, reports and documents for consideration open to the public and available for inspection at least five clear days before the meeting - unless special circumstances or exemptions apply.

“In this case there were special circumstances and relevant exemptions, which meant the five clear days weren’t possible for all documents to be considered.”

The council was also asked about how could schools afford to pay for extra transport costs of visiting a pool much further away.

At the meeting, Rossendale Council leader Councillor Alyson Barnes said: “Put simply, that’s not our problem. It’s the government’s.

“We are struggling to provide our statutory [legally required] responsibilities. We cannot answer for school budgets being under pressure."

A town council spokesperson said: “If it is inevitable the closure does happen, it is very clear Rossendale Council have not followed their own rules, not held any consultation and generally handled this situation extremely badly with no apology to the people of Whitworth for letting them down.

“Whitworth Town Council are looking into many varied options to try and save Whitworth Leisure Centre, to find out what might be available and who might be willing to help.”

A spokesperson for Rossendale Council said: “In our community vision for leisure and wellbeing facilities in Rossendale, we make it clear that having the right leisure centres in the right place helps all local people to have the opportunity, confidence and motivation to be active. 

“Other areas in Lancashire, some with larger populations than Rossendale, are serviced by just one leisure centre. 

“It is still our intention, to build additional leisure provision in the east of the borough once funding is identified and we are continuing to work with partners such as Sport England to secure this.”

Cllr Barnes said: “[We] met with the Town Council last night for the second time, so it was disappointing to see them release their statement ahead of that meeting. 

“We are happy to hear and listen to all ideas put to us and are willing to assist the community were feasibly possible. 

“I sympathise hugely with the children and the residents of Whitworth. We have spent 12 years safeguarding many of these activities because we know how much they mean to our communities. 

“But like all other public bodies, following more than a decade of austerity, the pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis we have simply come to the end of the road in terms of our ability to continue to protect non-statutory services.  

“Rossendale Council has lost £4 million per year from its annual budget since 2010, if you account for inflation that figure would be £6m per year. 

“We are left with £9m in our budget to provide a wide range of statutory services… sadly, we cannot continue to do the same things with so much less money.

“Of course, I care deeply about the children who are losing their leisure centre and access to swimming lessons close by. I also understand the enormous pressures on schools' budgets.

“As previously stated, and as I have done twice so far, I am happy to continue talks with the Town Council and residents and provide assistance wherever we can, but the decision to close the leisure centre on 21 July still remains." 

Rossendale Leisure Trust has been approached for comment.