An MP has called for government funding to help reopen a town’s mothballed leisure centre, during a parliamentary debate.
Stoke-on-Trent North MP Jonathan Gullis raised the issue of Kidsgrove Sports Centre, which has been closed since 2017, after securing the adjournment debate in the House of Commons.
Mr Gullis wants the government to make a financial contribution towards the estimated £5.6 million cost of renovating the facility, including its gym and swimming pool, so it can be brought back into use next year.
Newcastle Borough Council has allocated £3.1 million to the project, while Sport England has said it could provide £100,000. Kidsgrove Sports Centre Community Group plans to run the facility on a non-profit basis.
Mr Gullis told MPs that refurbishing the centre, which dates back to 1976, would cost a third as much as a new build.
He said: “The sports centre needs the government to commit to help fund its renovation and to unlock funds from Sport England so that in summer 2021 the people of Kidsgrove will once again have access to exercise facilities. Having spoken to Sport England this morning, I know that £100,000 has already been allocated in principle, but only £150,000 at most can be given from its asset fund.
“Although it may have other pots, such as the social investment and strategic facilities funds, they have been repurposed due to the damage that covid-19 has done to the leisure sector. Any of the £195 million that Sport England announced in April would be absolutely welcome, but Kidsgrove sports centre requires a cocktail of funding. Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council has stood up, as has Sport England. Now, I need the government to do the same.”
Mr Gullis said the sports centre was desperately needed in Kidsgrove, for both social and public health reasons.
He added: “The centre was built to fill the huge demand for local sporting facilities, this demand has increased not decreased, yet nearly 45 years later that gap has once again emerged following the closure of the centre.
“The impact of this closure has affected the people I represent in three clear ways. Firstly, a severe lack of recreational activities in the area causing a void of community cohesion and interaction.
“Secondly, the impact on public health especially for those with pre-existing conditions has been drastic with 63% of the area now deemed inactive.
“Finally, the closure has penalised those who cannot afford they money or time to make concessions and travel further afield to exercise.
“The people of Kidsgrove ought not be financially penalised for wanting to keep fit, indeed it is a pillar of this Government’s strategy to encourage people to keep fit, so I implore the Government to do the undeniably correct thing and invest in my constituents as we promised to do in December.”
Sport minister Nigel Huddleston said he could not guarantee government funding for the project, but added that he hoped the talks with Sport England would reach a ‘satisfactory conclusion’.
Mr Huddlston said: “I understand that the Kidsgrove centre has the strong support of the local community, alongside the charitable community group that is co-ordinating the work to reopen it, and I commend this approach. I want to see more and better facilities across the country that will help people to get active, but I want them to be properly thought through and planned.”
Staffordshire County Council has previously agreed to transfer its freehold interest in the centre to the borough council for a nominal sum, together with £363,000 – the sum initially allocated towards the building’s demolition.
But a county council meeting on June 3 heard the authority had continued to incur costs ahead of the transfer of the site – and it was proposed that the county council claw back the costs of securing and maintaining the site while negotiations continued.
Councillor Kyle Robinson raised concerns that the proposed claw back ‘would have a significant financial impact on the community interest group and would be contrary to the spirit of joint working between the two councils’.
The county council’s property sub-committee agreed to deduct 50 per cent of the costs incurred from April 1 onwards from the payment due to be made to the borough council towards the demolition costs. The deadline for the transfer was extended to October 5.
Borough council cabinet members were given an update on Kidsgrove Sports Centre at their recent meeting.
Council leader Simon Tagg said: “We will do this project hopefully with government support, Sport England and the community group.
“We’re waiting to hear back full costings on that from Willmott Dixon so we can press ahead with this key project.”