Council officials change plans for Gateshead leisure centre closures

A report to the cabinet calls closing Gateshead Leisure Centre and Birtley Swimming Centre the “only option that achieves the objectives of the review”. Credit: Google Maps.

The closure of two leisure centres could be signed off next week – but council officials have altered proposals on which ones should be axed.

Gateshead Leisure Centre, Dunston Leisure Centre, and the Birtley sports hall had been named as the sites under threat of closing due to budget cuts.

More than 7,000 people responded to Gateshead Council's public consultation voicing opposition to the proposals.

Newly-released documents now reveal that the authority’s proposals have changed.

Gateshead Leisure Centre, in Saltwell, and Birtley Swimming centre pool, on Durham Road, are now earmarked for closure.

Both facilities could shut on 31 March this year, if plans are agreed on Tuesday 24 January.

Dunston Leisure Centre - which is home to the Gateshead, Whickham Swimming Club, and the Gateshead Synchronised Swimming Club - and the Birtley sports hall both look set to be saved.

A report to the cabinet said closing Gateshead Leisure Centre and Birtley Swimming Centre was the “only option that achieves the objectives of the review”.

It is possible community organisations could take over some sites.

The report said the council is in “at the very early stages” of talks with local groups interested in a community asset transfer for Gateshead Leisure Centre and Dunston Leisure Centre, while a commercial organisation has shown interest in Birtley Leisure Centre.

Campaigners have asked the council for months to put a stop to the leisure centre closures, fearing the impact on people's physical and mental health.

There have also been calls for next week’s cabinet decision to be pushed back to a full council meeting in February. The town’s Liberal Democrat opposition plan to table £2.1m proposals to keep all the leisure centres open for 12 months, while an expert task force has been drawing up plans to make them financially sustainable.

Gateshead Council said attempts since 2015 to make its leisure services self-sustaining have failed. They are expected to overspend their budget by around £2m this year, while the facilities also require £14.5m of maintenance over the next two decades.

It is also claimed in the report to next Tuesday’s cabinet that there is “no evidence” that the council’s leisure centres are used by those in greatest need of them, and said the way services were currently funded could create inequality, as some people are unable to pay to use the facilities.

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