Controversy in Congleton over delayed leisure centre name
The widow of a former Cheshire East councillor has asked that the redevelopment of a Congleton leisure centre is not named after her deceased husband, after local outcry over the name being chosen by the council without consultation.
Cheshire East Council launched the search for a development partner for Congleton leisure centre in May 2016, setting aside £8.8m for the project, which it said would be named in memory of Conservative councillor Peter Mason, who died in 2015.
The regeneration of the leisure centre was hoped to be underway for completion this year, but is yet to begin. The expansion would see the centre extend onto Hankinson’s Field, currently used by Congleton Rugby Club. The club has been told by the council it can continue to use the playing pitches until Christmas.
While a development partner is yet to be appointed, the potential move of the club sparked the editor of local paper Congleton Chronicle, Jeremy Condliffe, to release an editorial last month, questioning the naming of the centre after a Tory councillor, without public consultation, and with little connection to health or fitness. While he made clear the criticism was in no way personal to Mason, Condliffe pointed out the name had been chosen by former Cheshire East leader Michael Jones, also a Conservative, and may not reflect the views of local people.
In response, Cllr Rachel Bailey, leader of Cheshire East Council, said: “Peter Mason’s widow, Helga, has contacted the council and asked that her late husband’s name be withdrawn as the name for the new leisure centre in Congleton. I deeply respect Helga and have accepted her decision.
“Helga has asked that the views of the people of Congleton should be sought over the choice of the name for this new facility for the town and its citizens. When a decision has been taken on what development will take place, the potential naming of the venue will be reviewed.
“We all recognise the work that Peter did for the town of Congleton during his many years of public service to the community as a councillor. However, we do understand his family’s wish that his good name should not be embroiled in unseemly controversy.”
In an update on the progress of development at the leisure centre, a spokesman for Cheshire East Council said: “The council, together with colleagues from Everybody Sport & Leisure and experts from the leisure industry, are working to identify a development partner for the capital improvements at Congleton Leisure Centre.
“The council has set aside £8.8m to upgrade the facilities there and we are pleased with many aspects of the proposals coming forward. We anticipate that we will be in a position to make a recommendation to the council’s cabinet later this year.
“We have informed Congleton Rugby Club that they can continue to use the playing pitches at Hankinson’s Field at least until Christmas, while other pitches at Congleton Park and Back Lane playing fields are available to them as normal. We will continue to liaise with the club as appropriate.”