Trust plan for south Norfolk leisure facilities moves a step closer

The prospect of south Norfolk's leisure facilities being run by a trust moved a step closer at a meeting yesterday when councillors backed the plan.

South Norfolk Council's leisure and neighbourhoods overview sub-committee agreed the council's officers should look at two options for reducing the cost burden of running the centres in Wymondham, Long Stratton and Diss and ensuring investment in improved sports equipment.

One choice was to retain in-house management, meaning the council would continue running the centres, while the other was to link up with King's Lynn Borough Council to set up a leisure trust to run leisure centres in south and west Norfolk, which would lease the centres from the council and qualify for reductions in business rates and VAT.

A report prepared by council officer Rob Adams stated over �250,000 savings could be made on VAT and business rates by pursuing the trust option, which would also provide opportunities for broadening the leisure provisions, and opening up funding streams that would not be available by keeping the in-house model.

Mr Adams' report also said there would be start-up costs of �83,000 for the trust model.

Figures showed the number of people using the gyms had increased considerably over the last four years, with consequent increases in revenue. At Wymondham Leisure Centre, the income for 2008/9 was �702,281, but by 2011/12 this figure had risen to �946,617, while at the same time annual employee costs had fallen from �578,083 in 2008/9 to �515,686 in 2011/12.

This rise in the numbers pursuing healthy lifestyles had led to a drop in obesity levels to below the national average, with 24.5pc of south Norfolk adults believed to be obese, 8.7pc of reception year children and 16.8pc of year six children.

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However, Mr Adams told yesterday's meeting over �200,000 would be needed to replace equipment which was out-of-date and prone to breaking down, while the leisure centre in Victoria Road, Diss needed re-developing, potentially at another site.

Councillor Glyn Walden, who represents Diss, said a possible site had been earmarked on land south of Park Road in Diss for a new leisure centre and swimming pool.

Councillor Lisa Neal, who represents Poringland, raised concerns the council would lose control over decisions affecting the centres if a trust was established, but Mr Adams gave assurances there could be council representation on the trust. Other trustees would come from the community.

Mr Adams said: 'There have been many success stories, but to carry on delivering growth in the current economic climate, there will be many challenging times ahead. There needs to be a lot of investment in leisure centres.'

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