Tendring Council's cabinet members have been urged to defer for three months a decision that could lead to the closure of Brightlingsea sports centre.
A council report has recommended that an agreement with the Sigma Trust – which owns the sports centre building in the Colne Community College – should not be renewed when it runs out at the end of this year, potentially leaving the town without sports and gym facilities unless the community steps in.
The recommendation – backed by Tendring's portfolio holder for leisure and tourism, Alex Porter – could save the council around £76,000 a year and comes as the completion of a £575,000 refurbishment at Clacton Leisure Centre was announced. The work at Clacton has seen the sauna and health suite – now known as the Wellbeing Zone – completely revamped, with new changing cubicles, showers and toilets.
“One of our aims of Back to Business is to provide facilities where people can thrive – and that includes exercising and relaxing,” Cllr Porter said of the refurbishment."These works have made a really positive impact on the district leisure provision."
However, at a meeting of the council's overview and scrutiny committee last night (December 13), Cllr Porter and the officers who compiled the report about the centres in Brightlingsea and Harwich were strongly criticised.
"You seem to be quite capable of getting funds for Clacton," said committee member and Brightlingsea councillor Mick Barry. "The report does not address the concerns of residents. To take away a facility for 9,000 people is just unacceptable."
Cllr Barry said that closing the Brightlingsea centre would go against a host of council policies designed to encourage sports and fitness. "Any cost saving is far outweighed by the benefits to residents' health and wellbeing," he claimed.
Along with other councillors, Mr Barry questioned why, given that the council said it had been negotiating with the Sigma Trust for over six months, the report contained no information from the Trust about what it might want to happen when the agreement ends, or any idea of what investment might be required to improve the facilities in Brightlingsea.
"People have 10 weeks' bookings but you haven't got a clue what is happening in two weeks," he told Cllr Porter, who defended the recommendation to close stating that the council should not be investing money in a building it didn't own.
Alresford councillor Gary Scott pointed out that the Brightlingsea centre is also used by residents in surrounding villages. "I'm staggered that we're thinking of a facility like this going," he said. He also questioned how seriously the report's compilers had taken a public consultation process that showed respondents were overwhelmingly in favour of the centre staying open. "Was the consultation just an excuse to put forward your recommendation?" he asked.
The council is due to launch a new sports facility strategy in March 2022. The agreement with the Sigma Trust had already been extended for six months and several committee members questioned why it could not be allowed to run until the new strategy was formulated.
Committee members agreed with chairman Mark Stephenson that deferring the end of the agreement would be the best course of action, and their recommendation will be placed the council's cabinet when it meets on Friday (December 17).
• A petition against the closure had been signed nearly 550 people at the time of writing. It can be found here.