Brightlingsea's district councillors have secured some assurances about the short-term operation of Brightlingsea sports centre – but are still seeking guarantees about financial support and its long-term security.
Tendring District Council decided not to renew a joint-use agreement with the Sigma Trust – which owns the building at the Colne Community College – when it ended on December 31 last year. The council said the move would save £76,000 a year and proposed that the centre could perhaps be run instead by Brightlingsea Town Council and the community. The Brightlingsea centre – along with the Harwich centre, also under threat – has already been removed from Tendring Council's leisure website.
On Friday January 7, councillors Mick Barry, Jayne Chapman and Graham Steady met officers from Tendring Council to be told that council staff would be withdrawn from the centre at the end of March, but two dedicated staff would be available to handle bookings and other enquiries via phone and email. From April, staff from the Sigma Trust would be responsible for maintenance and cleaning, and existing equipment would remain in place.
The officers said that the Sigma Trust had been "incredibly supportive" of plans to maintain similar levels of service going forward, but suggested that while current group users with block bookings would be the easiest to accommodate under any new arrangements, occasional gym users might find that facilities were not readily available.
In a statement released after the meeting, the three district councillors said that their initital reaction was "favourable' but added that "more detail was required regarding availability, opening times and pricing before any considered judgement could be made. The longevity and resilience of the model will also have to be tested against user numbers and ultimately, financial returns."
The councillors were critical of the report recommending closure, saying it was "under-prepared" and "vastly underestimated the response from Brightlingsea councillors and residents". They added: "The proposals for the Sigma Trust to provide a near identical service but with different operating terms and conditions – and presumably a projected profitable outcome – also raises the question why TDC could not have made similar proposals, reduced the deficit, and kept the operation going."
Expressing relief that a proposal for future use was "finally on the table", the councillors questioned why this couldn't have been done months before as part of the overall report into the leisure activity in the district."This would have saved a great deal of anguish and resident dissatisfaction at the way the matter had been handled," they said.
The councillors added: "It is hoped that the proposals for a revised operating system are successful, but questions remain about investment strategy and the future working relationship with the Sigma Trust, as well as details about access and pricing."