Lowestoft sports centre crisis talks

Talks were under way last night to safeguard the future of Waveney's flagship sports centre after a number of board members resigned from the trust set up to help run it.

A confidential 'extraordinary' meeting of Waveney District Council was called to discuss the management of the Waterlane Leisure Centre in Lowestoft amid what were described as 'budgetary concerns'.

The problems have arisen just nine months after the centre reopened to the public after an �8m redevelopment project, with responsibility for its day-to-day operation passing to Sentinel Leisure Trust.

The trust, which was formed in April last year, is also responsible for other sports and leisure facilities across the district, including Bungay swimming pool and gym.

But yesterday, as councillors prepared to discuss the way forward – and with the council preparing to step in to help run the centre – Waveney insisted there was 'a bright future for leisure' in the district.

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In a joint statement issued by Waveney and Sentinel, a spokesman said: 'Due to some budgetary concerns, Waveney District Council has been asked by the Sentinel Leisure Trust to provide strategic and operational support on an interim basis.

'This measure will enable the council and the trust to work closely together on a comprehensive review of the current business plan and will enable Sentinel to continue delivering quality leisure services in an effective and efficient manner.

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'This process, which will safeguard the long-term viability of the trust, will begin immediately and the revised business plan will ensure that any interim financial support from the council is recouped.'

Yesterday, staff were being briefed on the latest developments.

The spokesman added: 'There will be no impact on the availability of services and facilities currently offered to the public and staff have been reassured... that these necessary measures will secure a long and bright future for leisure in Waveney.'

The Waterlane Leisure Centre was reopened amid great fanfare in January after undergoing a major refurbishment which saw its facilities expanded and modernised.

Responsibility for the management of the council-owned centre was passed to Sentinel, under its chief executive Victoria Beck. Its contract to run leisure services for Waveney also covers the Dip Farm pitch and putt course and the soccer pitch at Barnards Centre Point in Lowestoft. The trust's trading subsidiary, Sentinel Enterprises Ltd,, runs two yacht mooring stations and oversees the lifeguards, beach huts and two shops on Lowestoft seafront.

The Journal understands that of the seven community members and two local authority members that made up the trust's original board of trustees, several have resigned in the past few weeks.

The spokesman for Waveney and Sentinel confirmed: 'Some trustees have resigned and new trustees have been appointed, but the legal process of resignation and appointment is still not entirely finalised.'

This week, a former Sentinel employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said there had been a number of problems at Waterlane.

He said: 'I think people need to be aware that this new �8m venture is not working. Lowestoft needs a facility like this, but something has to happen up there.

'People are worried about their jobs... They have been going into work worrying 'is my job safe?' People can't live like that. A place like Waterlane should be working.'

The ex-worker also claimed that of the 14 staff initially employed at the centre's caf� and restaurant, fewer than half were still working there, and that some centre users had cancelled their memberships.

However, these claims were dismissed yesterday.

The spokesman for Waveney and Sentinel said: 'Memberships have not fallen and no staff have been made redundant as part of this process. Nothing has happened regarding staffing since the re-opening which could be considered out of the ordinary or contrary to usual business practice and expected staff turnover.'

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