A rugby club has pulled out of controversial plans for training facilities at a leisure centre after uproar from locals. Cardiff council's proposals would have seen Cardiff Rugby occupy a section of Pentwyn Leisure Centre under a 25-year lease and an artificial grass pitch would have been built on a popular nearby park.

Petitions against the leisure centre and 3G pitch schemes got almost 4,000 signatures as Pentwyn residents complained that their pool would be smaller and that they would lose the cherished dog-walking space of Parc Coed Y Nant. Now WalesOnline can reveal that the rugby club will be redirecting the investment that had been planned for the leisure centre into new temporary facilities at Cardiff Arms Park.

The leisure centre is yet to reopen to the public since the Covid pandemic saw it shut in March 2020. Shortly afterwards Cardiff Rugby started training there but we understand the club intends to move to the Arms Park facilities from May this year. The club is pulling out of both the 3G pitch and leisure centre plans.

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The council was expected to spend £4m of public money on the leisure centre and pitch, though Cardiff Rugby would have paid rent across a 25-year lease. The proposed 3G pitch would have been available to the public on weekday evenings and weekends, and would at other times have been used for Cardiff Rugby training.

A council spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, Cardiff Rugby has informed the council that it no longer intends to remain at Pentwyn Leisure Centre once their current arrangement expires in May 2024. The council was relying on income from a lease to Cardiff Rugby to help fund the investment at Pentwyn Leisure Centre. The council is now reviewing the scheme to determine what can be delivered within available budgets and will seek to present amended plans back to the local community as soon as possible. Despite this setback, the council remains committed to fully reopening the centre, including a new swimming pool.”

The council had described its vision as an "upgrade" but some locals saw it as a downgrade. There would have been a smaller pool with no water slide or wave machine. And if Parc Coed Y Nant was taken over, dog walkers said antisocial behaviour and drug-taking on alternative routes would have made them feel unsafe.

Pentwyn Leisure Centre
Pentwyn Leisure Centre

Rhian Vernall, one of the campaigners against the plans, said she hopes the leisure centre can now be "handed back to the community", adding: "It should never have been handed over to a private club in the first place." The 41-year-old mum-of-three thinks there are now questions over whether the feedback from the council's recent public consultation will still be relevant, given it was carried out on the basis that much of the centre would be taken over by the rugby club.

Ms Vernall said: "There's now a real chance for the leisure centre to be developed with the community in mind. It's been closed for nearly four years so the council has some making up to do." She believes the site should benefit from multimillion-pound improvements similar to those Splott and Eastern leisure centres have had in recent years.

Dog walkers in Parc Coed Y Nant in Pentwyn, Cardiff
Parc Coed Y Nant in Pentwyn, Cardiff

The council has previously said the Cardiff Rugby deal was important to "improve the income performance of the Pentwyn Leisure Centre to protect its long-term financial sustainability". But Ms Vernall says any incoming tenant should not compromise the size of the pool or other features of the leisure centre. She feels youth services, parent and baby classes, or the return of a bar to the upstairs area would be good additions to the centre.

The leisure centre, which first opened in 1989, is home to a swimming pool with a wave machine, squash courts, a sports hall, fitness suite, bar and café. You can read more about the council's controversial scheme here. For the latest Welsh news delivered to your inbox sign up to our newsletter.