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Future of leisure centre trust hangs in the balance as chiefs slam council’s bid for control

PUBLISHED: 16:17 01 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:21 01 March 2019

Alive Leisure chief executive Simon McKenna has criticised West Norfolk council's decision over the management of the trust's facilities. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Alive Leisure chief executive Simon McKenna has criticised West Norfolk council's decision over the management of the trust's facilities. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Archant Norfolk 2016

Bosses of a charitable trust which runs leisure services in West Norfolk have slammed the council for creating doubt over its future.

The management of Lynnsport and other West Norfolk leisure centres is being discussed by West Norfolk council. Picture: Ian BurtThe management of Lynnsport and other West Norfolk leisure centres is being discussed by West Norfolk council. Picture: Ian Burt

Alive Leisure was set up by West Norfolk council in 2013 to run the King’s Lynn Corn Exchange, Lynnsport, St James Pool, Downham Leisure and Hunstanton Oasis.

The management of the centres was discussed by the council behind closed doors, as it tries to take back control of the facilities.

The move has been criticised by Alive Leisure chairman Peter Lemon, who claimed trustees were disappointed with the council’s position.

But speaking last year about the matter, council leader Brian Long said the move would “improve the possibilities of future investment” and give the council greater control over financial decisions.

Alive Leisure chairman Peter Lemon said the trust faced an uncertain future.  Picture: Ian BurtAlive Leisure chairman Peter Lemon said the trust faced an uncertain future. Picture: Ian Burt

In the trust’s annual report, Mr Lemon said Alive Leisure faced significant challenges last year including a drop in the number of visitors to its swimming facilities, prolonged roadworks and reduced footfall in King’s Lynn town centre.

He also stated the trust faced an “unprecedented level of uncertainty” after West Norfolk council decided to carry out an options appraisal into leisure and cultural services, to mitigate a predicted deficit in its finances.

An options appraisal reviewed the possibility of handing over the services to a not-for-profit local authority company or community interest company. Mr Lemon said the council looked to reduce the leisure and culture subsidy by £1.2m, adding; “In effect providing the services at nil cost to the borough.

“The trust is however committed to maintaining a constructive dialogue with the [council] during this period of uncertainty.”

West Norfolk council leader Brian Long. Picture: Ian BurtWest Norfolk council leader Brian Long. Picture: Ian Burt

Some 1.4m people visited the Alive Leisure facilities last year but the trust had fallen short on some of its targets, with total income calculated at around £5.2m - a little below the £5.4m anticipated at the start of the year.

The trust chief executive Simon McKenna said one potential outcome of the options appraisal could lead to the service arrangements made between Alive Leisure and the council to end.

“We are concerned by the [council’s] proposal received during this year to review the future delivery of leisure and cultural services,” he added.

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