Carmarthenshire county council has voted to halt controversial plans to impose “extortionate” price rises on sporting clubs for the use of authority-own pitches and facilities.
At a meeting of full council today (Friday) councillors voted to support a motion calling on the executive board to “freeze the proposed changes” and enter “wide-ranging and meaningful” consultation with clubs affected.
The vote, which saw off proposals that could have seen clubs facing potential price rises of more than 2,000 percent over the next three years, was welcomed by members of the Carmarthenshire United Sports Committee (CUSC) – an organisation set up in response to the initial authority plans.
“We are obviously delighted with the result and glad that councillors have seen sense,” said CUSC’s Mike Bassett.
“We are delighted this vote has given us the chance to consult appropriately rather than having this policy forced on us without any consultation – up to this point and with just three weeks to go before the fees were imposed we still had not received formal notification from the authority.”
In a surprise move – fuelled by huge public opposition to the proposals – councillors voted all but unanimously to the freeze motion, put forward by Councillor Emlyn Dole, after the majority of Labour councillors left the chamber declaring that, as members and officials of their local sporting clubs, they would be contravening the authority’s code of conduct by taking part in discussions. The move signalled an all but inevitable victory for opponents of the price hikes.
Cllr Dole labelled the proposals “ill-conceived and ill-thought out”.
“It is a rushed-through policy created in the mists of the twilight zone,” he said.
Cllr Alun Lenny described the policy as “extortion”.
“Al Capone would be proud,” he said.
“We are in this mess because the executive board has tried to implement a policy without consulting the public, the members of this council or members of the clubs affect.”
Cllr David Jenkins added: “What we are talking about here is the Welsh sporting heritage. Where did Shane Williams start his career?”
Council leader Kevin Madge praised the work of CUSC in highlight the concerns of local clubs and vowed to have the policy re-examined.
“We will look at these charges again,” he said.
“We will take it back to the executive board and we will look at this again.”
However, Cllr Madge said there was an inherent inequality in a split between clubs in the east and west of the county which went back to the formation of the county council from earlier rural councils with those in the west predominantly owning their facilities while those in the east were under authority ownership.
“We will have to look at the policy going back to 1995,” he said.
“This is one of the long-standing policies that we have never been able to resolve.”