A flagship £20m leisure and community centre being built in Northumberland will not be handed over to be run by a private sector company, concerned local people have been told.
The new, multi-purpose centre in Ashington is being paid for by the county council, with the project delivery handled by the authority’s arms-length regeneration company, the Arch Group.
Last year fears were voiced by Labour councillors and local residents that it might be handed over as a “sweetener”, amid claims that the then Liberal Democrat administration was considering the privatisation of leisure services across Northumberland.
Almost 100 people signed a petition entitled “It’s not yours to give away”, calling on the council to ensure that the Ashington centre remains in public ownership and is not handed to a for-profit private company. Tomorrow the petition goes before the authority, which is now being run by a minority Labour administration.
Work has started on building the new centre on the site of the former Asda supermarket in Lintonville. It will include a swimming pool, sports hall, gym, cafe and other leisure facilities, as well as a range of council services such as a public library, a contact and advice point and registrar’s office.
A report to tomorrow’s petitions committee by service manager Lynn Turner says the new building will remain in the ownership of the council and in the public domain.
She says: “The facility, once built, will be in the ownership of Northumberland County Council on a 999 year lease of the land from Arch.
“There are no plans for the management of the new facility to be undertaken by a for-profit, commercial private sector company.”
Ms Turner says the building’s leisure facilities will be managed by Active Northumberland, a new charitable trust formed by a joint venture partnership between Blyth Valley Arts and Leisure and North Country Leisure, which already manages leisure facilities in the county. Management of the library, customer services and registration services will be through the council.
Ms Turner adds: “Active Northumberland is a not-for-profit charitable trust, and will work in close partnership with the council to ensure that the new facility, in common with all the council’s other leisure facilities, provides a range of activities and services that are accessible to all sections of the local community.”
The council carried out a review of its leisure management arrangements, which resulted in Active Northumberland being established to run most of the contracts.
Work started two months ago on demolishing the disused Asda store to make way for the centre, expected to open in 2015. It will replace Ashington’s aging leisure centre in Institute Road, which was threatened with closure by the county council two years ago.