Parent power saves leisure centre crèches from closure

THREE crèches at council-run leisure centres have been saved from the axe following protests from parents.

The original decision to close six across the city – the result of a 300,000 cut in funding for Edinburgh Leisure – sparked widespread anger and led to mothers challenging First Minister Alex Salmond on the issue.

At a board meeting last night, Edinburgh Leisure's directors performed a U-turn and will now keep a total of four crches open – although prices are to increase by 2 to offset costs.

Facilities at the Drumbrae and Gracemount leisure centres and Portobello swimming centre, which were earmarked for closure, will now stay open, along with Ainslie Park Leisure Centre as originally planned.

The crches at Kirkliston leisure centre, the Leith Victoria swim centre and Craiglockhart Tennis and Sports Centre will close, as will the Royal Commonwealth Pool facilities.

Leisure chiefs said their decision was based on providing services in four distinct geographical parts of the city, and said the Commonwealth Pool was added to the closure list because it will shut next year for a major refurbishment.

The move was today welcomed by parents, who have gathered more than 3000 signatures in less than a fortnight and have described the crches as a "lifeline".

Mother-of-one Karina McFall, from Lockharton Gardens, said: "I don't think Edinburgh Leisure anticipated the level of protest, but if you do something without any consultation this is what happens. This is a positive result and it is nice that Edinburgh Leisure has taken on board our feelings over this."

Ms McFall said the price hike was not "unreasonable", as Edinburgh Leisure subsidises each crche visit by around 13.

It will now cost 5.80 per visit, or 4.40 for users with a membership card and 3.50 for concessions – a rise of 2 in each case.

Around 18,500 youngsters used the crches in 2006/07, which are staffed by 24 workers.

Some employees will be offered redeployment, but compulsory redundancies have not been ruled out.

Edinburgh Leisure's chief executive, Keith Jackson, said today:

"We are confident that this is a preferable solution but will continue to review the situation over the coming months."

Labour group leader Ewan Aitken welcomed last night's decision.

But he added: "It's still disappointing that any crches will close." The cut in Edinburgh Leisure's annual grant of around 7.7 million was agreed by councillors last week. A council spokesman said: "Edinburgh Leisure receives a grant from the council and it is for their board to determine how that is invested."

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