Council agrees leisure centre must close

Town councillors have decided to press ahead with plans to temporarily close Harleston Leisure Centre on April 1.It follows a long-standing wrangle with businessman Neville Thomson, whose company New Life Leisure has operated the centre for the last four years.

Town councillors have decided to press ahead with plans to temporarily close Harleston Leisure Centre on April 1.

It follows a long-standing wrangle with businessman Neville Thomson, whose company New Life Leisure has operated the centre for the last four years.

The town council claims Mr Thomson gave notice in November last year that he wanted to withdraw from his contract early.

But he insists the request to end the arrangement was made by the council in February. Last ditch talks between the two sides have failed because the council says it was unable to accommodate his demands.

As a result, the council today announced it has ratified its decision to end the contract and is now looking for another operator to take over as soon as possible.

A comprehensive survey of the building, carried out by Chris Cook, head of leisure services at South Norfolk Council, has shown that work is needed to ensure the future safety and welfare of customers, which is viewed as a top priority. The building will be closed to the public so the work can go ahead uninterrupted, angering some centre users who say they have been left high and dry.

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Adrian Brownsea, chairman of the town council's recreation committee, said: “The council is disappointed at the confusion and concern in the local community regarding the circumstances of Mr Thomson's departure. While discussing with us his request to leave early, in his public statements he was accusing the council of forcing him out.

“In no way was that the council's desire and we refute all such allegations.”

He added: “It is now time to move on, and the recreation committee will continue to work to provide the high quality centre which residents expect and most certainly deserve. In the meantime, we ask everyone to bear with us during this temporary closure.”

Mr Thomson is taking legal advice, as the contract still has a year to run and he claims the council has not complied with the six months notice of termination.

“Because we have made such a big investment in the centre, we did want to know what was going to happen at the end of the five years, but we certainly were making no demands. We've actually been trying to find ways to help the council. It is very sad, the centre may not open again and that would be a great loss to all concerned,” he said.