The future of Pendle Leisure Centre remains uncertain after the borough council deferred the proposed £500,000 investment to convert the centre's facilities into a soft-play area following a public outcry.
Despite the Leader of Pendle Borough Council, Coun. Mohammed Iqbal, insisting that the proposed investment would shore up the centre’s future profitability amid cuts to the Pendle Leisure Trust’s budget, a public backlash has forced the council to defer the proposal subject to public consultation.
With members of the public fearing the renovation would impact the range of sports on offer at the centre, a petition was set up by Lynne Watson and Lisa Gee and garnered over 2,000 signatures in just two weeks, with the Colne-born double-Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist, Steven Burke, even tweeting a link to it to his 13,000 followers.
“We felt there wasn’t enough consultation by the leisure trust in terms of what the proposals were,” explained Coun. Iqbal.
“This was a big win for Colne,” said Deputy Leader of the Conservative group on Pendle Council, Coun. Paul White. “The idea to re-purpose the sports hall, in a very thinly-veiled attempt to copy a successful local business in the immediate vicinity, was completely shambolic and ill thought-out.”
“The government, the media, schools, [and] local healthcare services all promote getting active to prevent and eliminate the risk of obesity,” read the petition, which also raised the issue regarding the need for another soft-play area in an already-saturated market.
Despite concerns that the proposed changes to the leisure centre would result in a widespread loss of facilities, Coun. Iqbal said: “At Colne, all bar one group of badminton players have been re-accommodated to other leisure centres and Colne Primet Acdemy, which is managed by the trust.
“The leisure centre sports hall has only currently being used - over the last couple of years - at 45% capacity,” he added. “The bottom line is the leisure trust is having to think outside the box as a result of the government cuts.
“As part of the investment, [there will be] an upgrade to the gym facility and to the classes - the £500,000 isn’t just for the soft-play conversion, at least half of it is to upgrade the facilities to maintain it as a viable sports centre for the future. If anything, the [services] will be enhanced.”
Alison Goode, Pendle Leisure Trust’s chief executive, is urging the people of Pendle to consider the bigger picture and consequences when a decision about the future of the leisure centre is handed over to them.
The priority of the Trust and Pendle Borough Council is to ensure that the borough’s three main leisure centres remain open.
However on-going cuts to the Trust’s annual grant by the Council means the funding gap year on year has to be plugged and the Trust needs to look at doing things differently.
Mrs Goode said: “This latest investment will see the development of a very tired facility, with a brand new, state-of-the-art fitness studio, a soft play area, the old, dated changing rooms being transformed, the reception area being up-dated and a food and beverage offering being introduced, which together will help retain and appeal to new members and customers and help sustain our membership levels.
“It will be a one-stop destination for fun and sporting activities for all the family and will bring people in to the centre who have never been before and therefore introducing sporting activities such as swimming and fitness to a wider audience.
“By having West Craven Sports Centre just three miles up the road and Colne Primet Academy, which we manage on behalf of Pendle Education Trust, half a mile in the opposite direction, we can open up these facilities to most of the activities currently taking place at Pendle Leisure Centre, making sport still accessible to all. We can relocate all activities except one.”
She went on to explain that Pendle Leisure Centre used to be a thriving hub for sporting activities; but over the years the sports hall has seen a decline in usage and is not now utilised to its full potential. The proposed changes would create three now jobs while safeguarding others.
She added: “This redevelopment is something we have been examining and considering for quite a while. We carried out a lot of research and the decision has not been taken lightly. We feel that this redevelopment is a positive option to enhance the existing centre and existing facilities whilst bridging the gap in our funding by generating more revenue.
“Over the years we have made many successful investments, including the creation of Inside Spa and the introduction of new fitness facilities at Pendle Leisure Centre, Pendle Wavelengths and West Craven Sports Centre.
“We have also installed new top of the range Life Fitness equipment at Pendle Wavelengths in January, we had a complete refurbishment of the gym at Pendle Leisure Centre and we have just completely refurbished the Xrcade at Pendle Leisure Centre.
“In addition the Trust has been instrumental in bringing external grant funding into the borough creating successful community projects to get people active”
Following the decision at the Full Council meeting, a public consultation will now take place on the future of the sports hall.
Mrs Goode added: “I feel this redevelopment will have a positive impact on Pendle Leisure Centre, Colne and Pendle. My priority has been, and always will be, to try and keep all our facilities open, despite council cuts and I would urge everyone responding to the public consultation to look at the bigger picture and the long-term sustainability of Pendle’s leisure facilities.”
Proposed changes to Pendle Leisure Centre have been put on the back burner as desperate users stepped up their campaign to see it continue in its present form.
Several members of the public spoke against proposals to transform the hall at the Full Council meeting.