New leisure centre plans under fire

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THE £20m successor to Ashington Leisure Centre currently being lined up wouldn’t be anything of the sort, just yet another council building, according to one county councillor.

Inspired by a campaign to save the town’s ageing Institute Road leisure centre, a blueprint is being drawn up to bring various council services under one roof along with a replacement sports venue.

Ideas being bandied around include having a library, swimming pool and theatre all on the one site.

Leisure centre director Jimmy Lang, also county councillor for Seaton and Newbiggin West, is not impressed, however, claiming the current centre could be upgraded for less than half the price of the new complex being planned.

Speaking at Newbiggin Town Council’s meeting last Wednesday, he said the current centre could be upgraded and have its pool replaced for £8m to £9m.

“Now what’s happened is that they have put £20m into the pot, but now it’s become not a leisure centre any more, just a glorified council building,” said Coun Lang.

That criticism has been dismissed by county council leader Jeff Reid, however. Speaking to the News Post Leader afterwards, Coun Reid, of Plessey in Blyth, said the proposed new centre would make Ashington proud.

“We are going to invest £20m in Ashington to replace a building that the Labour-controlled district council left to rot for 35 years,” he said.

The county council says building a new centre would offer an opportunity for a greater range of services and longer opening hours.

It is asking the public for ideas on how to create a “high quality, inspirational centre for those who live, work or study in Ashington and surrounding areas”.

The council is in talks with the owners of two possible locations – the former Lintonville Asda site and the old hospital site at West View – about potentially taking them over.

Coun Lang, pictured, told councillors: “Don’t feel bad that they’ve never consulted you, because they didn’t even consult any of the Ashington county councillors over this process, and we have made representations in no uncertain terms that we should have been spoken to.”

He said he felt the council services that the authority wanted to bring together under one roof would be better housed in the town centre, perhaps in the old Co-op building.

Town council chairman Rebecca McCready said a response would be considered.

A proposal will go to the county council’s executive in April and it is envisaged that the new centre, if approved, would open in 2014.