Council agrees to hand over thousands to cover funding gap at leisure centre

HEADQUARTERS: Huntingdonshire District Council's Pathfinder House

HEADQUARTERS: Huntingdonshire District Council's Pathfinder House - Credit: Archant

Leisure facilities in Sawtry faced closure unless Huntingdonshire District Council stumped up £80,000 to cover a “funding gap” at a centre it used to run, it has emerged.

The council was asked to come up with the money just weeks after the One Leisure complex was handed over to new operators by the trust which is in charge of Sawtry Village Academy where the facility is based.

Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust (CMAT) and Stevenage Leisure Ltd (SLL), which had just been awarded a one-year contract to run the centre, approached the council for cash aid.

Now the council has agreed a one-off payment to support leisure provision at the centre for the next two years.

Cllr John Palmer, councillor responsible for partnership and wellbeing, said: "This decision was one that made perfect sense for the authority - we are staying committed to leisure provisions within our district whilst ensuring that the Sawtry facility can be managed successfully for the local communities.

"It was important for us to be able to protect the rights and access of the current users of Sawtry's leisure facility and I am pleased that have been able to do so."

Cllr Palmer added: "The closure of the facility would have been the worst case scenario - therefore it is great news that we have managed to avoid this by helping bridge the gap."

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The council will continue to operate its other One Leisure centres in Huntingdon, St Neots, St Ives and Ramsey.

The Sawtry centre, built as a dual-use facility with the school, had been costing the council more than £70,000 a year in subsidies. The authority has been upgrading its centres with the aim of attracting more users to increase income and offset rises in the Council Tax.

In handing over the money, the council has set a condition that community use of the facility will be protected at the level of what is currently on offer for the next two years.

CMAT and SLL asked the council to cover a funding gap which, the council said, had been "generated by the new management partnership".

A spokesperson from Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust said: "We are delighted that Huntingdonshire District Council have committed to supporting us to bring the leisure centre back into the school's control. This will benefit the school tremendously and significantly improve the access to sporting facilities for all our students.

"We are excited by our partnership with SLL, which will also enable the community to continue using the facility as they have done for many years. Through this partnership, there will also be investment to improve the facilities and a commitment to increase the offer to the school and the wider community."