Alarm at North Norfolk District Council bid to back out of North Walsham Sports Centre and merge its management with The Atrium

Alarm and unease are growing in North Walsham at plans by North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) to back out of its involvement with the town's sports centre and merge its management with the neighbouring Atrium building, both part of the town's high school site.

Town mayor Dave Robertson has condemned the idea as 'barking mad' and said if necessary he would be prepared to lead a campaign against it once all details, which he said were currently 'shrouded in secrecy,' had been revealed.

The sports centre's voluntary management committee is furious that it has not been consulted on the plan, which it fears would see the Atrium using centre cash, threatening its viability.

And county councillor Paul Morse has accused NNDC of turning its back on its responsibilities in North Walsham.

But NNDC, which currently runs the Spenser Avenue sports centre as a 'dual-use' facility with the high school, claims the scheme is 'an exciting new move'.

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Trevor Ivory, NNDC's cabinet member for localism, said: 'The existing sports centre is located next door to the fantastic new Atrium building and so there is an opportunity to combine the management of the two facilities. This will not only offer better value to council taxpayers, but it will also help to make the facilities more sustainable and accountable to local people.'

Head teacher Caroline Brooker said no decision had yet been made and school governors were due to decide at their meeting on Tuesday whether they wanted to pursue the idea.

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The �5.3m Atrium, which opened in September, was built as a dual-use school and community building and includes a cinema, conference rooms, dance and music studios.

Richard Palmer, acting chairman of the centre's management committee, said the volunteer members and community had raised thousands of pounds for new facilities and equipment since the centre opened in 1986 and were 'astounded' at the proposal, which they had only learned about second-hand.

The centre attracted more than 30,000 users last year and was kept buoyant by the goodwill of volunteers, including parents who helped run popular activities including weekly roller-skating sessions, trampolining, gymnastics and junior table tennis.

'At the moment the sports centre is very successful,' said Mr Palmer. 'If sports centre money starts going into The Atrium, which is losing money, we could start going downhill.'

Mr Robertson said the town council would be discussing the plan at its July meeting but meanwhile he was seeking more information from both the district and county council. He stressed that his views were personal.

'I think it would lead to the demise of the sports centre,' he said. 'The Atrium is a super building and idea but they haven't got enough money to run it effectively. If they haven't got any spare cash - how on earth are they going to make this idea work?'

Mr Morse said providing sports facilities for all ages was a district council responsibility. He added: 'From what I know at this stage the district council would be walking away from North Walsham.'

Sketchy details of the scheme first emerged last month in NNDC cabinet meeting papers. The matter was due to be discussed in private but was deferred until the school's governing body had met.

An NNDC spokesman said that if governors decided to proceed with bringing the facilities together, the council would consult with other stakeholders, including the management committee of the sports centre, over the summer and bring a report to cabinet in September.

Mrs Brooker said there could be benefits to merging some aspects of the centre and The Atrium, including management, booking systems and marketing.

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