Fears over leisure centres unfounded says mayor

CONCERNS over the future of three leisure centres have been described as “totally groundless” by a council leader who criticised his officers for a report which suggested they were under threat.

Doncaster Culture and Leisure Trust (DCLT) runs Doncaster’s sports centres and last Monday the Yorkshire Post revealed it was to set to ask council bosses for a loan of £5.2m to improve facilities.

A report on the issue was due to be discussed by Doncaster Council’s ruling cabinet last week, but elected mayor Peter Davies said he had “binned” the document before it was even tabled.

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The report included details of schemes to improve three leisure centres – The Dome in Doncaster, Adwick leisure centre and Mexborough’s Dearne Valley leisure centre – in a bid to attract more users.

But it also said that those centres which require most subsidy may be at risk of closure and sites in Askern, Rossington and the town centre’s St James’ complex were named as possible targets.

This drew immediate anger, particularly from people living in Askern, which is eight miles from Doncaster town centre, with community representatives saying people could not afford to pay for travel.

Coun Francis Jackson, who represents the village, said: “Since the youth club closed in Askern there’s already less for young people to do and this would only make it worse.

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“If Askern leisure centre did close people would have to pay to go into town and then back which would cost them around £8 in public transport.

“People just can’t afford that. This is very short-sighted and there are other ways to save money than constantly targeting your average man in the street.”

Mr Davies said no loan would be extended to the charity, which was given control of the centres in a bid to limit council involvement, but said he “could not understand” the closure suggestions.

The mayor added: “The leisure centres are safe. We have already set the budget for this year and the funding is in place for those centres. There are absolutely no plans to close them.

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“I do not know where this report has come from. As soon as I saw the report I threw it in the bin.

“None of these plans have been discussed with me. We will not be discussing giving the charity a loan or removing any funding. These plans have been thrown out and that is the end of it.

“The only centre to close under my budget is a children’s centre, nothing else.”

DCLT was handed responsibility for running the borough’s 
leisure centres and swimming pools in April 2011 in a bid to reduce financial pressures on the council.

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It receives council grants but is expected to make a profit to put back into the business.

Mayor Davies, who is up for election in May, was forced to slash £26m from his latest budget under Government austerity.

The trust was due to ask Doncaster Council for the £5.2m loan for improvements because it cannot secure a loan in the private sector as a result of pension liabilities.

It had wanted to spend £1.9m expanding the gym at The Dome, because it is currently oversubscribed, and had asked for £500,000 for Dearne Valley, also to expand the gym and provide more car parking.

In Adwick, the trust said £2.8m was needed for the expansion of health and fitness provision, introduction of a ten-pin bowling alley, soft play area and additional car parking.