Felixstowe leisure centre may go private

TOURISM chiefs are today testing the water to see if Felixstowe's prestigious seafront pools and leisure complex should be handed over to a private operator.

TOURISM chiefs are today testing the water to see if Felixstowe's prestigious seafront pools and leisure complex should be handed over to a private operator.

The controversial project could save council tax payers £200,000 a year – but there are fears that it could force up swimming prices and deter people from using the centre.

The announcement comes just days after Suffolk Coastal council agreed to spend £860,000 refurbishing the centre.

The council subsidises the cost of swimming. The centre costs around £700,000 a year to run.


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But the council says a private company could run the centre in Undercliff Road West more cheaply and it is now considering transferring management to a charitable trust or a commercial leisure operator, following advice from consultants Deloitte and Touche.

Maggy Wilson, cabinet member for culture and leisure, said: "There is a major financial incentive for the provision of leisure services if they left our district control and took on charitable non-profit making status.

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"They would no longer have to pay business rates on the facilities and there are also some VAT advantages. This is why a number of other local authorities have taken this route, and we have our own past experience of gaining private management for the Spa Pavilion.

"There is an opportunity to build on the excellent quality of our current operation in a way that would achieve major savings."

Outline bids are expected from April 2004 and staff will be transferred to the new organisation on their existing terms and conditions.

Felixstowe councillor Dot Paddick said: "Anything that will improve the leisure centre and make it more efficient would be welcome, but I would have to be convinced that it was for the public benefit."

Work on the £860,000 refurbishment project is set to start in the autumn and will include building a new reception area, family changing rooms, changing areas and toilets for people in wheelchairs, and putting new wall and floor surfaces in the current changing rooms along with better drainage.

n What do you think – will it be a good move to hand over leisure facilities to a private company? Are they better run by the council? Write to Evening Star Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

WEBLINK: www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk

Factfile

Felixstowe's leisure centre opened in September 1985 after residents campaigned for 20 years to get a swimming pool for the town.

The building was originally estimated at £2.8 million but ended up costing £4.3 million.

It replaced the old Pier Pavillion, the town's biggest hall and entertainment complex.

The leisure centre features a multi-purpose hall, indoor bowls complex, three swimming pools, fitness suite, a children's indoor play attraction, bars and a café.

Around 650,000 people pass through its doors to use the facilities each year – 200,000 of them swimmers.

Recent surveys of the building have shown considerable wear and tear and the need to improve changing facilities, equipment and disabled access.

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