Centre uncertainty was badly handled

THE Liberal Democrat controlled Northumberland County Council appears to be in disarray with regard to the future of Ashington Leisure Centre.

Readers may recall that last year the council announced its intention to close the facility, and only withdrew that proposal following a tremendous and successful community campaign involving young people such as Adam Nichol, sporting personalities like Steve and Ben Harmison, Jack Charlton and Ken Ferrie, together with sports clubs, local trade unions, Labour councillors and, of course, the people of Ashington and the surrounding area.

You can imagine the delight and surprise of those, including myself, who were present at the recent county council’s budget meeting when it was announced by Coun Peter Jackson that there was £15m in the budget to build a new leisure centre in Ashington.

It should be said, however, that the statement was actually criticising the proposal, saying the money should be spent in Alnwick.

At no time during the meeting did anyone from the Lib Dem leadership deny this proposal, thus allowing everyone present to assume it to be correct.

Even when approached by the media the impression was given that the money was in the budget and the development would go ahead.

From here on in the plot thickens.

When I, along with others, tried to find details of this £15m in the county council budget papers, we were unable to locate any reference to the money.

On contacting senior officers at the council, they were also unable to confirm the money was in the budget.

By then the county council issued a statement saying the £15m was not in this year’s budget and therefore there are no plans, no money and no intention to build a new leisure centre in the coming financial year, but the proposal remains an ‘aspiration for the future’. Well so does Newcastle United winning the Champions League, but I’m not sure which is more likely.

This whole episode has been badly handled from the start, with the hopes of everyone first raised and then dashed while the county council looked on and let it happen.

One thing is certain, however, if the county council are not going to build a new leisure centre in Ashington, they must spend some money on refurbishment and repairs, otherwise the centre will eventually become unusable – or is that what some would want?