Gyms and leisure centres to close in Newcastle

Gym users in Newcastle. PA Images
Gyms are set to close in Newcastle Credit: PA Images

A number of leisure centres in Newcastle will remain shut indefinitely - with 35 staff set to lose their jobs.

The Eldon Leisure Centre inside Eldon Square, the West Denton Swimming Pool, and Walker Activity Dome will not be reopening for the foreseeable future, operator Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) has confirmed.

The non-profit organisation said that it had been "impossible" to recoup losses caused by the coronavirus lockdown and the requirement to operate venues with reduced capacity in order to comply with social distancing.

It is expected that 40 per cent of GLL's permanent staff in Newcastle will lose their jobs as a result.

GLL also runs the East End Pool, Gosforth Leisure Centre, and the Newcastle Trampoline Park and Gym - all of which will remain open with "modified" hours.

Outdoor football pitches at the Walker Activity Dome will also continue to operate, as will the other facilities at West Denton Leisure Centre aside from the pool.

Newcastle City Council confirmed that it has issued GLL with a loan from an emergency £5m fund set up to help businesses through the Covid-19 crisis but it is not enough to keep every leisure centre open.

GLL was handed control of most of the city's council-run leisure facilities as part of civic centre budget cuts in recent years.

The social enterprise, which runs 258 facilities across the country, was forced to ask local councils for financial help earlier this year to help it cope with the devastating impact of the pandemic.

Gareth Kirk, GLL's regional director for Newcastle, said the remaining centres "could only continue to operate in the city if we took action to cut our operating costs".

GLL said that the closed facilities will stay shut "until the impact of the pandemic on the business and the leisure sector is clearer", with the decision reviewed after six months.

They also confirmed that school swimming lessons will continue and that leisure centre members would be offered access to all of the GLL facilities that remain open for no extra cost.

Marc Donnelly, independent councillor in the Chapel ward, said the pool closure "leaves a huge gap in provision within the outer west", adding that money from housing developers building on the outskirts of the city should have been ringfenced to save and improve the facilites.

He also questioned why the council could not stump up more cash to help keep the community facilities open, when millions has been loaned to prop up the Crowne Plaza hotel in the city centre.

The city's Lib Dem opposition described the closures as a "body blow" and called for urgent answers from the council on how the outsourced centres were being allowed to close.

He said: "Our thoughts are with the 40 per cent of Greenwich Leisure staff whose jobs are at threat today. Longer term, our concerns are that the communities these facilities serve will have restricted access to preferred exercise activities.

"As we know, good physical health and regular exercise can help to protect against the worst effects of COVID-19, so to close them now is a body blow to the city's intention to improve residents' health and wellbeing."

A council spokesman confirmed that GLL asked for "an adjustment to their previous loan facilities as well as a further loan which has allowed them to reopen some of their services".

They added: "GLL have determined the best use of this funding in order to allow facilities to re-open within their existing service provisions, to ensure they have greater financial stability and the ability to repay the loan within the terms agreed with the council."

Labour's Irim Ali, the council's cabinet member for neighbourhoods, said: "We are very disappointed that they are having to reduce their level of service in the city.

"This is not what we wanted to see but we have to recognise the leisure industry has been hugely affected by the pandemic and GLL as the biggest operator have some hard decisions to make.

"Our officers continue to meet with them to offer support and monitor the take up of gyms and pools which have reopened. We will work with GLL to explore any available options for a long term solution."