Lament to leisure centres - £63million revamp plans 'essential' to fix 'sad state' of sports facilities and gyms, says chief

The ‘sad state’ of some of County Durham’s gyms and leisure centres means a planned multi-million pound cash injection is essential to keep them open.

Thursday, 16th January 2020, 1:46 pm
Updated Friday, 17th January 2020, 11:56 am

County bosses have approved plans to sink almost £63 million into upgrading, refurbishing and even rebuilding their centres over the next few years.

And according to one of the architects of the scheme, the boost could mean ageing facilities can keep going for another generation.

“You don’t save any building or asset just by passing a council motion to keep it open,” said Coun Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for economic regeneration.

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“In the past we’ve had to look at making some huge savings across the county, but with any building or asset if you don’t invest you eventually lose it.

“It’s come to a point with the sad state of some of the buildings where we have to invest in them or look at closure – this could make them more sustainable for the next 15 – 20 years.”

Coun Marshall was speaking following a decision to approve the £62.8million budget for the scheme, which is expected to create more than 30 jobs across County Durham.

And he also claimed the move was the ‘biggest single investment in leisure of any council in the North East’.

Existing leisure centres in Seaham, Chester-le-Street and Bishop Auckland are all set to be rebuilt under the programme, with a further five slated for refurbishment, including Durham’s Freeman’s Quay Leisure Centre, which opened in 2008 to replace the former Durham’s City Baths.

Another slated for an overhaul is the Abbey Leisure Centre, in Pity Me, which currently only offers limited opening hours throughout the week, with further restrictions at weekends.

But Coun Marshall said the investment could be an opportunity to improve access.

“I think the Abbey is one where, with new investment, we need to look at how we operate the centre and that’s true for all of [the county’s leisure centres].

“[We don’t want] a case of having all this new stuff and then buildings being closed, but investment allows us to reconsider the opening hours and also get increased footfall into the buildings – we want to have these as a leisure experience rather than just a sports centre.”