Breathing space in city leisure centre row

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News: Sheffield Telegraph online 24-hours a day.

THE door is being kept open for a community-backed deal to save the swimming pool at Stocksbridge Leisure Centre.

Campaigners are being given more time to finalise their business case, with the city council preparing to mothball the centre up to the end of August at a cost of up to £125,000.

At the same time, the authority says the money is available from May 1 to help any community-supported venture with an affordable and sustainable financial model.

But there is no budging from the stance that the city council can no longer afford to pump £400,000 a year into the leisure centre - a position that has led to an outcry in Stocksbridge.

The campaign group, 4SLC, has already submitted an outline business plan, but maintains it has not been given sufficient details about the running of the centre to respond fully, a claim that is denied by the council.

Council officers will present the latest details to councillors next Wednesday. They say that Stocksbridge is the most expensive local leisure centre to operate and attracts relatively low visit levels, and have proposed closure as part of a £50m cuts programme.

But they also say they want to allow more breathing space to allow the community to try to find a solution that would especially keep the pool open.

Talks between the council and 4SLC are due to be held on April 9.

Cabinet member Coun Isobel Bowler said: “A lot of work has been undertaken over the last few months and the council has been as flexible and open as possible. We want to work with the town council and 4SLC to look at what can be done to provide sports facilities in Stocksbridge and the officer recommendations being put to cabinet next week will be carefully considered.”

One option that remains on the table is for Stocksbridge Town Council to raise money to keep a pool open through its precept - a local tax - after a referendum.

But a council report says: “To date there has been no offer of potential financial support from the town council.”

Meanwhile, 4SLC has instructed law firm Unity Law to start Judicial Review proceedings against the city council, claiming that a closure decision was taken without undertaking a public consultation exercise.

The challenge seeks to achieve “a new and rigorous consultation and a re-assessment of the needs of the disabled and elderly users of the leisure centre”.

The group says its outline business plan follows an independent report confirming the need for a swimming pool and leisure facilities in Stocksbridge, and is on the basis that keeping open the existing leisure centre represents the value for money.

Retention of the centre would negate the need for a new ‘district size’ facility to be built in the north of Sheffield at a cost of millions of pounds, it is argued.