Homes, pools, and the planet: Cornwall’s community collaborations meet at Cornwall Council

Protestors outside the leisure centre | Jory Mundy

A diverse coalition of protesters gathered outside New County Hall in Truro this weekend demanding action against climate change, the housing crisis, and the closure of leisure centres. The protest came ahead of Cornwall Council’s full council meeting which took place on Tuesday. This demonstration was the the first in Cornwall with multiple groups coming together on a single day of action.

One group was the Cornwall Climate & Ecological Emergency, who gathered demanding further actions against climate change. The group wants to ensure that Cornwall Council follows its obligations to reach net-zero emissions by 2030, as set out in its declaration of a climate emergency back in 2019. Campaigners are not convinced they are doing enough. The group gathered outside Cornwall Council, had speeches from local groups and politicians, then split into smaller groups to discuss local issues in a people’s assembly. Liberal Democrat Group Leader Edwina Hannaford said she aims to “bring a motion in January that Newquay airport should be net carbon neutral by 2025, the first in the country” as the council recently subsided air travel between Newquay and London.

XR Penitents stood on the roundabout next to Cornwall Council | Jory Mundy

The council debated declaring an ecological emergency to follow the climate emergency declared back in 2019. Cllr Bastin led the push for the policy, making a point to emphasise the need to preserve biodiversity in the region. The motion carried to applause and overwhelming support. Campaigners say they will continue to protest to hold the council to their climate obligations.

Demonstrators from Friends of Wadebridge, Pendennis Leisure, and other community groups gathered to show their support against the closure of several leisure centres across Cornwall. GLL, who are contracted by Cornwall Council to run the leisure centres, have named the following to close by March 2022: Ships and Castles (Falmouth), Wadebridge, Saltash, and Launceston Centres, as well as the Hydrotherapy pool at St Austell. GLL claims they can no longer afford to keep the current centres open without major financial support from the council and wish not to renew their contracts next year.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Falmouth to protest the closure of Ships and Castles. Pendennis Leisure, who have placed a bid to take over the Ships and Castles leisure centre, have stated a desire to keep it open to prevent further development on the headland, prevent potentially dangerous wild swimming as children will have fewer places to practice, and prevent an increase to carbon emissions as people are forced to travel further.

Organiser and speaker Amanda Pennington stated that Cornwall has one of the “highest percentages of drowning of any county nationality” and expressed her disappointment with the council’s decision to subsidise air travel but not to invest that money into leisure centres.

XR protestors | Jory Mundy

Independent Councillor Robin Moorcroft (West Wadebridge) launched a petition earlier this year which now has over 5,000 signatures, the threshold for a council debate. A similar petition with over 1,000 signatories was started by Cornwall Liberal Democrats. Cllr Moorcroft was thanked for his work by the chairman of the Council during Tuesday’s meeting. “We need to be mindful of the changing health and wellbeing needs of our communities coming out of the pandemic. This is very clearly a community issue that should concern all members, not a political one”, he said.

Due to a legal loophole, the council could not discuss the leisure centre petition on Tuesday. Council rules dictate that the full council could not debate the petition without the consent of the cabinet. An amendment was tabled to modify the petition but ultimately rejected. Councillors called on Council Leader Linda Taylor to grant the leisure centre decision to all 87 members. This was also rejected.

Customer and support services are expected to discuss the planned closure of the leisure centres on 7 December, and the cabinet is expected to make a final decision on 15 December, before the council enters Christmas recess.