Waveney's leisure unfit for purpose

A huge shake-up in the way leisure services are offered in Waveney is set to take place, with council chiefs pledging to give taxpayers a major say in any changes.

A huge shake-up in the way leisure services are offered in Waveney is set to take place, with council chiefs pledging to give taxpayers a major say in any changes.

Senior officers at Waveney District Council yesterday admitted some of its services were no longer "fit for purpose" following years of underinvestment.

They stressed that setting up partnerships with private operators could be the key to a raft of improvements.

Sports centres, swimming pools, playing fields and theatres will come under the spotlight during a wide-ranging review - which will give the public a chance to give their views.

The future of public halls, yacht stations, gyms and beach services will also be focused on during next month's consultation exercise, which will see people given the chance to fill in questionnaires and take part in focus groups. In addition, participants will be given the opportunity to say where new facilities should be provided, while meetings will take place with clubs and organisations.

David Gallagher, Waveney's portfolio holder for operations and facilities, said: "Leisure in its current form isn't sustainable without considerable investment.

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"We've got stock that isn't fit for purpose. Years of little investment have seen degeneration in these things. It's also about the sustainability of jobs and making sure there is a secure future. The things we are looking at will lead to growth."

Mr Gallagher pointed to a severe lack of leisure facilities in Halesworth, aspirations to build an indoor swimming pool and sports complex in Beccles, and the need to carry out major improvements at the Waveney Sports Centre in Lowestoft as key examples of the kind of investment needed.

The planned overhaul of Waveney's leisure portfolio is a flagship exercise in the council's push to become an "enabling" authority, where private partners are sought if it is felt it can help improve services and provide better value for money to the taxpayer.

Officers said outside operators would only be brought in where it was believed improvements could be made and that the new policy was not tantamount to selling off the "family silverware".

Council leader Mark Bee said: "We want to ensure that sustainable services are provided for the people of Waveney in the most effective and efficient way, offering genuine value for money and continual improvement.

"This needs assessment will tell us just what residents want from their leisure services and it will provide an invaluable platform to help us achieve this."

Research from the meetings, focus groups and questionnaires will be collated in July and be fed into the council's leisure options appraisal, which will begin in September.

Mr Bee added: "I would encourage anyone who has an interest in leisure to take part in the needs assessment. Effective consultation with the people that matter is absolutely vital."

Sally Spore, leader of the opposition Labour group, said she supported the pledge to consult the public, but questioned if decisions had already been made following the authority's three-year pledge to keep council tax rates low by pegging them to inflation.

"If they can really deliver then great, but I'm not convinced they can with the budget they have set themselves," added Mrs Spore.

The questionnaires will be available on the council's website at www.waveney.gov.uk and will also be mailed out to a randomly selected audience. They will also be available at Waveney's various offices and by calling 01502 588444 to request a copy.

Users of leisure facilities in the district will be invited to take part in the focus groups and anyone interested in taking part should talk to a member of staff.

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