Spotlight on centres

COUNCIL-run leisure centres in March, Wisbech and Whittlesey could be transferred to locally-run voluntary trusts under a radical plan which could save tens of thousands of pounds annually. Councillor Geoff Harper, leader of Fenland District Council, gave

COUNCIL-run leisure centres in March, Wisbech and Whittlesey could be transferred to locally-run voluntary trusts under a radical plan which could save tens of thousands of pounds annually.

Councillor Geoff Harper, leader of Fenland District Council, gave the first public indication of his ruling Conservative group's proposals to a meeting of Chatteris Town Council this week.

"We are looking at the management of all our leisure centres, possibly through trust arrangements that offer many options with minimal risks," he said.

"For instance, a trust would not pay rates - saving £130,000 - and a trust is eligible for grant aid. Local people could be involved in the management."


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Cllr Harper said many local authorities were opting to have their leisure centres run by trusts, and Fenland was seeing if it could do the same. District councils had a mandatory role to deliver certain services, he said, but "provision of leisure centres is not one of them".

Cllr Harper had been invited to Tuesday's town council meeting following a debate over the possibility of Chatteris - the only one of the four Fenland towns without a leisure centre - getting help from the proceeds of selling the council's housing stock.

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He said there should be no doubt about the "clear and unambiguous" commitment by Fenland Council to help Chatteris achieve a leisure centre.

The commitment remained that if Chatteris could find the capital, the council would "facilitate the revenue costs, a statement made by a succession of leaders of the council".

He said Chatteris had £1million in reserves to help fund a leisure centre and that was "a good start". Other community initiatives, including the commissioning of a feasibility study, would help.

And he pledged the support of Malcolm Moss, MP for North-East Cambridgeshire, to get Lottery funding.

Councillor Ray German told Cllr Harper he was unhappy to hear threequarters of the income from the sale of council houses was being invested since no decision on this had been taken by full council.

Cllr Harper offered an emphatic 'no' when pressed by Cllr German if Chatteris could be guaranteed some of the £600,000 interest expected.

Councillor Chris Howes said Fenland Council should contribute to the capital cost of a leisure centre for the town since a large proportion of council houses, which had been given to the people of Chatteris, had been transferred to Fenland upon re-organisation in 1974.

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