Town is set to get £20m new leisure centre

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UP to £20m has been earmarked for a new leisure centre and community complex in Ashington.

Northumberland County Council’s executive has agreed to set aside the funding, paving the way for a detailed business case to be prepared if the report is approved by the full council next week.

The centre could provide wet and dry indoor leisure facilities, including a 25m six-lane swimming pool, gym, fitness rooms and an eight-court sports hall.

There are also plans to include a library, council customer service centre and register office, including space to hold weddings, in the building.

Consultation will be carried out to determine the best site for the facility within the town.

The authority’s executive member for customer relations and culture, Neil Bradbury, said: “This is a case of the administration putting its money where its mouth is.

“We have been criticised for not fast-tracking this, but this leisure centre has been in a disgraceful state for an extremely long time.

“We have made this a high priority, and finally we are able to properly ring-fence some money for it.”

As reported in last week’s News Post Leader, the funding now recommended for approval by the executive will be provided as part of a £42m package of capital expenditure for projects also including a new road linking the A1 and south east Northumberland, as well as flood alleviation works in Morpeth.

The authority’s executive heard on Monday that if the council fails to invest in the schemes it is unlikely that any will be given external funding.

Ashington Leisure Centre has been identified as a priority for replacement because it is facing a lengthy backlog of maintenance issues, rendering repairs unviable.

The main swimming pool dates back to the 1930s and successive extensions have been added over the years, making the centre poorly laid out and difficult to navigate.

It is used less often than similar centres elsewhere in the county and has a low customer satisfaction level, the meeting heard.

Councillors were told that investing in a new centre could be more cost-effective in the long term as the building is likely to need around £3m of repairs in the next five years alone, as well as substantial subsidies.

Coun Bradbury said: “This has great potential to be a great revenue saving over the next few years. This is a classic case of a win-win situation.”

There could be additional savings by making the centre a community hub as other council facilities are also in need of investment.

The library is considered to be poorly located, is on two different levels and needs internal and external refurbishment and upgrading, while the lease on the registrars’ building is up next year, and the council’s customer service centre in Wansbeck Square is not big enough to meet its needs, with customers having to queue outside at busy times and facing a lack of privacy when talking to advisors.

Combining the services under one roof could help to make services more accessible and cost effective. The project could also involve partnerships with other organisations for initiatives around health and education.

A report to the Executive concludes: “The new facility will make a real difference to the people of Ashington in terms of skills, health and work opportunities and will be a catalyst for economic growth, social improvement and enhanced wellbeing.”

If the business case is approved, construction of the centre is likely to take 18 months, but the plan is to keep the existing facility open until the new build is complete.

However, if the option is taken simply to adapt the present building there will be some disruption to services.

The report is expected to go before the full council on Wednesday.