Council extends helping hand to Watton Sports Centre

Watton Sports Centre

Watton Sports Centre - Credit: Archant

A district council has pledged to do what it can to save an ailing leisure centre.

Leader of Breckland Council William Nunn. Picture: Ian Burt

Leader of Breckland Council William Nunn. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

The volunteer-run Watton Sports Centre could be facing closure due to growing demands on its already stretched budget.

Its former chairman laid blame for its financial situation with a private finance initiative (PFI) deal between Breckland Council and Parkwood Leisure, which runs leisure centres in Thetford and Dereham.

Under the agreement the council can financially support the privately-run centre in Dereham Road, but a clause states it would have to compensate Parkwood if the company suffered any loss of income due to this support.

Sports centre manager Kevin Jones labelled the PFI agreement 'unfair'.

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He said he would welcome any talks with the council and that the Watton Sports Centre Association and Social Club, which manages the building, would push for a grant of £30,000 per year – enough to 'give us some breathing space'.

'The important thing is that we get it on a regular basis so we can factor it into our planning.

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'The feeling of a lot of people is that they don't want to upset the apple cart, because if we do we might not get anything.'

Watton town councillor Keith Gilbert, who raised the subject of the sports centre's finances at Breckland's full council meeting on Thursday, said the leisure centre – which also hosts functions and community events – was a 'great asset to the town'.

'Breckland needs to find a way to financially support it as it does with the other leisure centres.'

Breckland Council leader William Nunn has resolved to hold talks with the sports centre's management to find a way of helping it stay afloat.

'We have done what we can to work with them as a private sports club and will continue to support them as long as we have the funding. A lot of conversations have happened over the years to help and assist them.'

Of the PFI clause he said: 'It is a risk we always will have to take, we have known that with other towns which have independent leisure provision.'

Michael Wassell, district councillor for Watton, said between 1999 and 2013 Breckland had given £297,475 in grants to the sports centre – an average of £21,248 per year.

The district council has previously offered to help the sports centre develop a business case to apply for funding from other bodies including Norfolk County Council and Sport England.

Mr Wassell said: 'I am a great supporter of the sports centre and I want to see it succeed.'

Mr Jones, former secretary of sports centre association, previously told the EDP that a survey of the centre in 2013 estimated £80,000 a year was needed to maintain the facilities.

He said it has £80,000 left in reserves but the list of necessary repairs, including to the air conditioning and boilers, keeps growing.

'I could turn the place around in a year, but if we did everything we needed to get done we would run out of money.

'Invariably we end up doing what we can afford.'

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