Councillors have signed off on a £5million investment to refurbish and modernise Blyth Sports Centre.
The town’s leisure facility was originally built in 1967, extended in 1979, with a further extension added to the front of the building in 2006.
A report to Northumberland County Council’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday (March 12) explained that due to the age of the building, there is a ‘critical need to undertake significant repair and maintenance work to simply keep the building operating’.
A survey in 2017 identified a budget of £3.2million was needed for repair and maintenance over a five-year period and to resolve a backlog of outstanding issues.
But the administration has now agreed to spend £5million to give the centre a major facelift, improve facilities and create a hub for the community, with work hoped to start in the autumn.
Plans are in place to create a new state-of-the-art gym and fitness area, a dedicated cycling studio, a new and improved soft-play experience and an extended catering offer.
There will also be a new and improved spa, children’s party rooms and two new studios, while the toilets and changing rooms will be refurbished, the pool hall refreshed and redecorated and the reception area redesigned.
The council is also keen that the investment helps transform the centre into a ‘wellness hub’ that will bring together leisure, health, social care and adult education under one roof and support residents to enjoy a physically active lifestyle.
At the meeting, council leader Peter Jackson said: “I have been there several times personally to look at that leisure centre and it’s quite clear there’s been a lack of investment in that leisure centre for years and years, but the structure of that building is sound.”
A business case drawn up by Active Northumberland, the charitable trust that manages leisure services for the council, suggests that £5million of investment will result in facilities that will cost £13.8million less to run over a 27-year term.
“So we are not just investing in communities, we are investing to save and investing in the future of one of the really important facilities in one of our key towns,” Coun Jackson added.
The funding is to be taken from an already-agreed pot of £8.5million for leisure-centre improvements, with just under £700,000 allocated to Hexham’s Wentworth Leisure Centre in January, while new centres are also planned in Berwick, Morpeth and Ponteland.
Coun Glen Sanderson said: “This proves that this administration does care about the whole county.”
Deputy leader Wayne Daley added: “This is a real example of how we can join up thinking to get some really fantastic outcomes. This is a fantastic use of public money for public benefit.”
Following the redesign and tender process, the refurbishment programme will be carried out on a phased basis so the centre will remain open and minimise any impact on the public.
After the meeting, Coun Cath Homer, the cabinet member for leisure, said: “The community of Blyth has been in need of new and improved leisure facilities for many years and we know it has been a real concern for local residents.
“The aim of this investment is to provide a mix of modern, state-of-the-art facilities that will provide opportunities for fun, fitness and relaxation and increase overall participation in health and wellness related activities within the community.”
Active Northumberland’s chief executive, Mark Tweedie, added: “Modern lifestyles mean that most of us are not as physically active as we should be which can be detrimental to our long-term health, so it’s never been more important to provide great places to help people to start and stay active.
“The centre is to undergo a major transformation incorporating some some of the very best services and equipment. I’m sure that once people see the finished results, they will be as excited about it as we are.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service