Brightlingsea Sports Centre could be closed to save money if the recommendations of a report are accepted by Tendring District Council's cabinet.
The shock conclusions of the report come despite 94% of respondents to a consultation in the autumn stating that the Brightlingsea facilities – and those at Harwich, which could also be closed – were a valuable part of community. Around 68% of the responses – from 339 people – came from Brightlingsea and 78% of all respondents said closure would "impact on their ability to access physical activities".
Tendring Council has a joint use agreement with the Sigma Trust – which runs the Colne Community College and the Harwich and Dovercourt High School, where both sports centres are based – that runs out at the end of the year. In 2018/19, the last year of full operation before the pandemic, the subsidy to the Trust for both was was just under £147,000 – £2.23 per visitor – of which £76,500 was for Brightlingsea. The centre in Brightlingsea has two sports halls, two fitness suites, two squash courts and a dance studio.
The report, compiled by two senior TDC officers, says that usage of both centres declined from 68,832 to 61,864 (around 33,000 at Brightlingsea) in the three years to 2019 and adds that "a significant investment programme is considered necessary" to reverse the fall in usage. At the same time, the report points out that the three TDC owned centres at Walton and Dovercourt have received "significant investment" and a £575,000 refurbishment at Clacton Leisure Centre is nearing completion.
The report makes three recommendations which are due to be put before TDC's cabinet on Friday, December 17. Closure is the recommended option, which suggests that the cabinet "should consider signposting customers to alternative facilities to retain the current level of activity". The other options are either to continue with the current agreements, or to reduce the subsidy to save on staff costs and cut opening hours.
Brightlingsea Town Council discussed the report at its full council meeting on Thursday night (December 9), although it was only released to Tendring councillors earlier that evening. Town and district councillor Mick Barry said that closing the Brightlingsea centre would go against policies to integrate schools and communities, encourage fitness and reduce car use. The council criticised the short time between the release of the report and the cabinet meeting and agreed to write a letter opposing closure.
• Brightlingsea Info understands that the report could be discussed at TDC's Overview and Scrutiny committee on Monday, December 13. We'll be following the story closely. What do you think? Comment below.