Leisure centres could close as subsidy ends
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Two Essex leisure centres face an uncertain future - unless a new operator comes forward.
Tendring District Council currently runs Brightlingsea Sports Centre and Harwich Sports Centre, both of which had been scheduled to shut on December 31 when a joint-use agreement ends between the authority and the academy schools operator Sigma Trust, which owns the facilities.
Although councillors have agreed to provide transitional support for up to three months into 2022, it is unclear whether any other body has the resources to take over.
It costs the district council almost £150,000 a year to run the two sites, and with attendances decreasing from 68,832 to 61,864 between 2017 and 2019 the authority says the subsidy was running higher than budgeted for.
Tendring district councillor Ivan Henderson said the district council had a duty to support mental and health initiatives, despite the cost, especially given the rising pressures of Covid.
He said: “They have a tunnel vision and are so fixed that we are just going to walk away and not do anything rather than find a solution and give us an offer to those local people.
“In the public sector sometimes you do have to subsidise things. In the long run the return and the value added to that subsidy is worth more than not having to pay it.
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“And for me at a time when we are saying to people we want to encourage more people to be active and live a healthier lifestyle we are pulling our support from something and there won't be anything there.”
He said talks were planned with Sigma but he worried the district council was the only body with the resources to manage the sports facilities.
He said: “We are a pubic sector and sometimes the public sector has to step in. We have areas in Harwich that are severely deprived.
“And we have low car ownership. Some of these people won’t be able to drive anywhere else.
“It is that – the social contact side of it. A lot of the older ones who go in for pilates and things like that is their one day a week socialising.”
Alex Porter, the council’s cabinet member for leisure and tourism, said the quality of facilities is important for the authority, and the decision to halt subsidies would allow further investment in its amenities.
He said: “We can deliver high-quality sports facilities, on a sustainable footing and at a reasonable cost to the tax payer, by focusing our investment in the leisure centres we own and run – rather than operating out of other buildings.
A spokesman for Sigma Trust said: “We note the decision of Tendring District Council and we will be working with the council during this transitional period to accommodate as many bookings as possible, focused on the community use of facilities.”