THE Government could step in to help a community takeover of Garstang Leisure Centre – if council bosses decide to close the facility.
Wyre Council is undertaking a review of leisure provision, with fears the leisure centre on Windsor Road could be shut in a cost-cutting move.
But a Garstang resident has been told by Government officials that, should the centre be earmarked for closure, they could offer help if enough members of the local community came forward to offer to run the centre themselves.
Anne Whitehead, of Meadow Park, has been presented with a ‘comunity asset ownership plan’ by the Department for Communities and Local Government, after writing to Prime Minister David Cameron with concerns about the possible closure of the leisure centre.
The response says Garstang residents could consider contacting the Government-funded Asset Transfer Unit, which would support them through a new Community Right to Bid programme, where local residents and organisations could be allowed to take control of land and buildings considered as an “asset of community value”, such as leisure centres, pubs and post offices.
This week members of the Save our Sports Centre group (SOS) said the scheme could offer an alternative should the outcome of the consultation, being undertaken by consultancy firm Max Associates, recommend the closure of the centre.
SOS member Ina Mirza said: “I presented the idea to the group and we had a look at it.
“There is something there, but obviously as a group we are concentrating on pushing to keep the leisure centre as it is.”
The campaign has already gathered more than 2,000 signatures on a petition, and this week the former chairman of the Garstang Sports and Social Club, Mick Richardson, accused the council of seeing Garstang as “easy meat”, claiming not enough investment had been made in leisure and sport provision in the town already.
He said: “The Government talks about plans for a Big Society – we’ve been doing that in Garstang for many years, taking over the sports green, maintaining it, investing and fundraising and saving the council money in the process.”
Wyre Council has been at pains to stress it has an open mind on the leisure centre’s future, and no decisions would be made until the results of the consultation were known.
Corporate director of people and places Michael Ryan told residents at January’s meeting of Garstang Town Council there were “no foregone conclusions”, and the public consultation “was about planning for the future” and “meeting need on a cost effective basis.”
Garstang Town Council have also voiced their concerns about the impact the leisure centre’s closure would have on the community.
Three members of Garstang Town Council were invited to a consultation meeting with Max Associates in February.
Mayor Lady Dulcie Atkins and Couns Gordon and Lynn Harter attended to give their views and voice concerns on behalf of centre users.
Lady Atkins said it had been an ‘interesting meeting’ and representatives from Max Associates had been ‘open to ideas.’
She said: “We went through a lot of the concerns that had been put to us, how the church and village halls can’t take all the leisure centre classes, the high school where nothing can be used in the day and clubs already using the sports hall in the evening.
“People fought long and hard for a leisure centre in Garstang, many people can’t travel further than Garstang, it’s difficult for parents to drive to another venue.
“But I really felt they were getting the general drift of what we were saying. The leisure centre has much improved in the last 18 months and we suggested with better pushing of the programme in the Tourist Information Centre, Library and so on people would know more about what is going on.”
She added their response had been welcomed and were told by representatives ideas “would be taken on board.”
Coun Lynn Harter said she had been impressed with the openess of discussions. She said: “I certainly felt they were really listening and it wasn’t a sham. They were pleased we were speaking up and said they would be looking at every opportunity.”
The results of the Max Associates consultation are not expected to be announced by Wyre Council until........
* What does the leisure centre mean to you? See our special feature, pages 8 and 9