Talks are set to begin which could see sports centre users in North Walsham, Cromer and Stalham paying higher charges.

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North Norfolk District Council’s (NNDC) cabinet this week gave officers permission to start negotiations aimed at radically altering the terms of its contract with North Walsham High School for the town’s dual-use sports centre.

Following a consultants’ report, NNDC, which manages the school-based centre when it is used by the community, wants to cut the annual cash it pays the school by more than half - to about £18,500 - introduce a £1 adult and 60p child entry fee, and gradually increase user charges.

John Lee, cabinet member with responsibility for leisure, said the moves represented the best deal for council-tax payers, who had been subsidising the school budget for many years, and were also a way forward for the centre.

Officers have also been given the go=ahead to scrutinise similar agreements with the sports centres at Cromer and Stalham, looking for savings.

The council says none of the agreements have been updated for many years.

Officers will also talk to North Walsham high about the possibility of building a multi-use games area (muga), to help boost the sports centre’s income.

Nigel Lloyd, who represents North Walsham on the district council and is a member of the sports centre’s voluntary management committee, said the whole matter had been badly handled, and he described the proposed revision of the agreement as “draconian”.

“It’s upset many in the town and the council’s lost a lot of trust. I think this will make it difficult going forward,” he said.

Fellow North Walsham representative Virginia Gay said 1,000 people in the town had signed a petition calling for NNDC to continue to subsidise the centre at a time when the council’s actions had led to a question mark hanging over its future, creating general disquiet.

Mrs Gay added: “I want to record the fact that there has been unnecessary secrecy and a general failure to consult with the people of North Walsham.”

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