North Walsham Sports Centre users face fees hike - Cromer and Stalham may follow

Users of North Walsham Sports Centre face a sharp hike in fees under radical proposals to keep the attraction open.

From next April a �1 entry fee for adults and 60p for children look likely to be added to user charges which are set to rise 10pc from 2014, and a further 7.5pc each following year.

North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), which manages the high school-based centre, says the agreement between itself and the school has not been reviewed for more than a quarter of a century, is completely out of date and is costing council-tax payers far too much money.

Following accusations of discrimination against North Walsham, NNDC's cost counters are further proposing to dust the cobwebs off similar agreements with the sports centres at Stalham and Cromer and examine them for ways of making savings.

And in a further bid to level the playing field between the three sports centres, the council is offering to help secure funding for a Multi-Use Games Area (Muga) - already established in Stalham and Cromer - at North Walsham.

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NNDC believes a Muga would draw more users to the centre, boosting its income and helping to keep it viable.

The council had wanted to hand over responsibility for managing the centre to the school with a lump sum to run it for two years, sparking fears that it could then close.

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NNDC envisaged that the school could manage it jointly with the Atrium arts complex, also on the Spenser Avenue site.

However, as a result of a consultants' report - requested by the school governors - NNDC is now proposing to retain its management role.

But it says current charges are far too low compared to similar venues and it also wants to reduce by more than 50pc the amount it pays the school for community use of the facilities.

North Walsham's sports centre costs the council far more than those at Cromer or Stalham, despite all three having roughly 30,000 users.

The report revealed that the council has been paying about �44,000 a year for community use of the North Walsham facilities, compared to the actual extra cost to the school of about �18,500.

The recommendations will go before NNDC's cabinet on Monday. If approved, talks would then begin with the school and the centre's voluntary management committee.

Richard Palmer, acting committee chairman, gave the scheme a subdued welcome. Speaking personally, Mr Palmer said he thought it 'had legs' and was 'the lesser of several evils,' giving the centre greater long-term security than the original proposal.

John Lee, cabinet member with responsibility for leisure, said district council-tax payers should not be subsidising the school's budget.

The sports centre had to be put on a more business-like, sustainable footing.

He added: 'Hopefully this is a way forward which covers everybody's concerns and which, most importantly, gives the sports centre a viable future.'

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