“Open mind” on sports centre future

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COUNCIL bosses have stressed they are open minded on the future of Garstang leisure centre.

The leader of the council, Coun Peter Gibson, has repeated the stance of his leisure boss colleague Coun Lynne Bowen that the council has an “open mind” as it launches a consultation into the future of the building.

Coun Gibson’s statement follows last week’s Courier front page article which revealed the existence of a secret document prepared last year by leisure consultants Neil Allen Associates into the future of Wyre’s lesiure centres.

It recommended the closure of the Garstang centre, linked to a move to share facilities at Garstang Academy.

The status of that document within the latest review, which will cost £30,000, is continuing to cause concern - and confusion.

In a letter to The Courier Garstang Coun Tom Balmain says the Neil Allen report “is history and will have no part to play in regard to future leisure facilities in Wyre.”

Council officials have distanced themselves from it because it lacks “supporting evidence” - but it WILL still be used to inform the latest review.

Coun Gibson this week issued a statement to The Courier saying: “We are carrying out a review of the council’s leisure services with a totally open mind. In order for the consultation process to be meaningful, we need the public to do the same and not be influenced by half truths or misinformation they hear elsewhere.

“The recommendation referred to in the Courier was made over a year ago by an independent party. Because the report lacked supporting evidence, it would have been irresponsible of us to even consider discussing it further - so we didn’t.

“Work carried out by Neil Allen Associates was always intended as an overview of Wyre’s leisure service as a whole and an introduction to the demographics of each area. The current review is much more comprehensive and will add important findings such as how well each centre is performing and whether users get value for money.

“This will help us complete the picture and guide us in shaping future leisure services.

“We may find that some things may need to change, some may stay the same, some could be enhanced, but there is no way that we could possibly know this until we have all the information in front of us.

“As for why we are carrying out a review, we spend approximately £1.4m annually on recreation and sport, which represents 8% of the total cost of council services.

“With such a large amount of money, it’s only right that we make sure the council is getting best value.

“There will be plenty of opportunity for all sections of the community to give us their feedback and yes we are just as interested in the views of the those people who do not use the centres themselves.”

Details of how the latest review will be carried out have not yet been made public.

Criticism of the council’s stance has been made by numerous users of the leisure centre (see letters page) and the newly formed Garstang Labour Campaign Group.

Spokesman Mr Bob Denmark, who uses the leisure centre three times a week, said: “Wyre Borough are proposing to spend almost the cost of running Garstang Leisure Centre for a year on private consultants to make the recommendations they want, so that elected councillors can pretend the decision isn’t theirs.”

• See letters and comment, page 6