Leisure centre seeks financial lifeline

VILLAGERS fear that their leisure centre could close within months unless they are prepared to face higher council tax bills and help meet the costs of keeping it open.

John Howard

VILLAGERS fear that their leisure centre could close within months unless they are prepared to face higher council tax bills and help meet the costs of keeping it open.

Parish councillors at Debenham, near Eye, say they have been approached by their community's leisure centre and asked to support them financially, or face losing the facility by April.

Debenham Leisure Centre, run by a charitable trust in Gracechurch Street, is used for sports including football, squash, bowls, fitness training and badminton with up to 3,000 visitors a week, but is understood to need financial help.

Now the parish council is being asked to find funds and a public meeting is being held next week to see if villagers are willing to back the move.

Ron Walters, chairman of Debenham Parish Council, said: “The public meeting stems from a request by the leisure centre to the parish council to help support them.

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“We felt it was right to involve members of the community, because this could affect the level of council tax we ask from residents. It is a delicate situation.”

Gerald Baxter, a parish councillor, said: “They want �25,000 and they say that if they do not get the finances it closes in April.

“This is an extremely important asset for our community and I would not like to see this venue lost, even though I am not a sportsman myself. This is a fine facility and needs help and support to survive for the future.

“This is a difficult issue though. There could be quite a large increase in our council tax and we want to make sure the community are happy with the way ahead.”

Mel Aldis, a manager at the leisure centre, said: “We are self-supporting and receive some revenue funding from the district council, and the idea is to receive some from the parish council too.

“Rather than making the decision they are having a meeting. But I am not sure how much I can say at this stage.”

A spokeswoman for Mid Suffolk District Council said: “We have given the centre �25,000 a year for three years and at the moment have no plans to withdraw our funding. The centre has now run into financial difficulties because of the economic climate and not many people using it.”

Parish councillors hope that as many of the residents as possible are able to attend the public meeting, put their views, and listen to the leisure centre directors, Mid Suffolk District Council representatives and councillors.

Leaflets are being distributed to all households and posters put up around the village to encourage a good turn out to debate the possible financial support for Debenham Leisure Centre. The meeting is being held on Tuesday January 13 at the community's high school, from 7.30pm.