Fears have been voiced over the future of leisure services in Bath and North East Somerset after the council announced plans to dramatically scale back support for local leisure facilities.
In a move which could effectively spell the end of council-backed leisure centres, the Liberal Democrat-run authority has revealed plans to sell-off, lease or transfer several of its leisure assets and end funding for council-supported leisure services, which currently stands at £1 million a year.
At the authority’s Economic and Community Development scrutiny panel last week a cross-party group of councillors raised a number of concerns about the plans after receiving a report on Council’s 25-year Leisure Strategy.
Conservative councillors on the panel said they were alarmed at the prospect of ‘selling-off the family silver’ by disposing of the Council’s leisure assets and raised fears of price hikes at leisure centres if the Council goes ahead with plans to axe all leisure subsidy.
Conservative spokesman for Tourism, Leisure and Culture, Cllr Martin Veal (Bathavon North), said:
“The council’s plans raise deep concerns about the future of local leisure services, and could effectively signal the end of council-supported leisure centres in B&NES. The radical nature of these plans has come as a total shock. People who use the Council’s leisure facilities will naturally be very concerned by the prospect of the Council selling a large number of its leisure assets and ending funding for leisure services.
“There are clearly still many questions the council has to answer about these plans. But if the result of cutting funding is a significant hike in prices at the leisure centres then it will clearly deter people from using these facilities, especially those from lower-income households.”
Cllr Dr Anthony Clarke (Cons, Lansdown), who sat on the scrutiny panel which considered the proposals, commented:
“It’s hard to see how disposing of the council’s leisure facilities and running leisure centres on a purely commercial basis fits with the priority of improving health and fitness. This comes just at the time the Council is taking over responsibility for public health from the NHS, which includes promoting healthier lives.
“It’s difficult to reconcile these proposals with the supposed aim of creating an Olympic legacy for B&NES.”
The eight sites which the Council plans to sell, lease or transfer are listed as:
· South Wansdyke Leisure Centre;
· Culverhay Sports Centre;
· Bath Pavilion;
· Entry Hill Golf Course;
· Approach Golf Course;
· Chew Valley Sports Centre;
· Odd Down Playing Fields;
· Lansdown Playing Fields.
Bath Leisure Centre is already set to be transferred to the Recreation Ground Trust as part of the Charity Commission’s proposals, whilst Keynsham Leisure Centre is likely to be demolished when the second phase of the town centre redevelopment gets underway. The report does not make clear who would operate a new Keynsham Leisure Centre once it is built.