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MAJOR SAY: Public must have say on £22m leisure centre

MAJOR SAY: Public must have say on £22m leisure centre

How a new £22m leisure centre in West Denton could look, Image: Newcastle City Council

Council bosses have been urged to give locals a major say over the building of a £22m leisure centre in Newcastle’s outer west, after an outcry over the closure of the area’s existing swimming pool.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed in Wednesday’s Budget that the government would approve Newcastle City Council’s Levelling Up Fund bid for a major new sports centre in West Denton.

The ‘state-of-the-art’ facility will see the existing West Denton Leisure Centre demolished as well as its neighbouring pool, which was shut down by operator GLL at the start of the Covid pandemic and never reopened, to make way for the new hub.

The current pool’s closure has been a major source of anger and there have been campaigns to get it reopened, with residents and councillors complaining that it represented a major loss of crucial facilities.

Chris Parsons, an outer west resident who has led calls to protect and improve the area’s facilities, said Wednesday’s announcement was “great news”, but warned it would be a “missed opportunity” if locals are excluded from talks over its design.

He said: “It is public money and the community should be involved heavily from day one.

“We might not get everything we want, but then at least everyone has had their voice heard.

“I fear that the council and GLL could go off and create a design, then come back and say ‘this is what you’re getting’. We need to stop that.”

Mr Parsons also questioned why GLL, which took over many of the city council’s leisure facilities amid civic centre budget cuts, was being allowed to run the new sports centre without any procurement exercise being run, after the acrimony over the existing pool being shuttered and deemed financially unviable.

He added: “After what has happened, I don’t have confidence in GLL and it is for them to prove me wrong.”

Lemington ward councillor Jason Smith said that it was “vital that the council works with the local community to design a new leisure facility that the people of the Outer West deserve”.

The leader of the Newcastle Independents added: “We must do all we can to ensure that residents are able to access swimming while the new facility is being constructed.  We will continue to fight for the new facility to be run by the community, not Greenwich Leisure – the company that ran down and then closed the pool in the first place.”

The council and GLL are due to put £3m towards the new centre, which will feature a new sports hall, swimming pool, gym, café, library and community space.

The London-based leisure operator claimed that the existing sports facilities in West Denton were “no longer fit for purpose, becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain”.

Alison Westworth, partnership manager for GLL in Newcastle said: “The design specification was part of the tender that has resulted in Newcastle successfully securing £18m for a new leisure facility in West Denton. Of course, going forward we’ll work closely with the local community where we can, on areas such as developing new programmes and activities that reflect its needs and priorities.

“Another key element of the tender process saw GLL, in partnership with Newcastle City Council, agree to contribute £3m in match funding, a factor that helped secure the financial award. We’re looking forward to working on this flagship development as part of our ongoing leisure contract and ensuring that it’s accessible to all residents within the outer West community.”

A council spokesperson added: “Residents got behind the bid and will continue to be included throughout the process from the early stages right through to the design detail, construction and opening of the centre.

“As leisure provider GLL also had a critical role in the success of the bid, and will run the new facility in line with the existing contractual agreements with the council to run a leisure facility at that location.”

 

Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter


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