Rival plans for future of leisure centre go on show

Chairman of Ashington Leisure Partnership Brian Storey by the proposed plans they have to rescue Ashington Leisure Centre.
Chairman of Ashington Leisure Partnership Brian Storey by the proposed plans they have to rescue Ashington Leisure Centre.

IT was a truly sporting contest as competing sides faced each other across the main meeting room at Ashington Leisure Centre.

Winning hearts and minds was the game – but would those present back Northumberland County Council’s £20m project to replace the centre or the home-grown challenger, a £10m revamp of the ageing building?

A stream of visitors examined the rival ideas at the joint exhibition last Thursday.

The champions of both sides were on home turf.

County council leisure and strategy officer Paul Nichol, grew up a stone’s throw from the institute.

Ashington Leisure Partnership trustee Colin Redpath swam there, played table tennis for the town and now lives around the corner and tries his hand at squash.

“It isn’t us and them,” said Mr Nichol. “Nothing’s off the agenda. Everything’s there to be discussed.”

The county council wants to build a new sports centre at the old Ashington Hospital site or former Asda and move in other services, including the town’s library.

Eight former leisure centre trustees in the new Ashington Leisure Partnership are keen to revamp the old building and keep it for sport, however.

The partnership owns two thirds of the building – donated to Ashington by miners in 1926, the year of the general strike – and the county council owns the rest.

Volunteers at Ashington Community Development Trust believe the library, registrar’s office and tourist information point could be housed in the redeveloped former Co-op, the Central Arcade in Woodhorn Road.

“There’s a lot of people have done their homework on the questions,” said Mr Nichol. “A project like this doesn’t happen very often.

“It’s a big thing. The town’s got a lot of sporting heritage.”

The council is asking people what they think should be included in the new centre. A consultation period ends on Friday, January 27.

The partnership has drawn up plans for facilities including a new 25m pool and learner pool, a creche, soft-play area, two squash courts, indoor bowls hall and sports hall housing eight badminton courts.

The county council is dismissive of the partnership plan, though, because there is only one access road and parking is thought to be too limited.

Mr Redpath said: “I fully appreciate that the buildings here are old and in need of some TLC, but we feel our option is viable and well thought out.”