Published Monday, 23rd January 2023
By James Cowen
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Gateshead Council's cabinet will meet on Tuesday 24 January to decide on plans for the future of its leisure services, following a shock report that was released online on Wednesday 18 January.
The report of the Public Health officer recommends closure of Gateshead Leisure Centre and Birtley Swimming Centre by 31 March 2023.
Residents will meet outside Gateshead's Civic Centre on Tuesday to protest the proposal and express their "disbelief" at the report.
Save Leisure Gateshead say: "We are demanding answers around assertions in the report which substantially depart from previous policies and statements made by the council (contradicting the expectations of residents), and which do not seem rational. We have written to councillors about failures in the consultation process and inconsistencies in the evaluation matrix."
"Appendices published alongside the main report appear to contradict the report's overall findings as well as exposing major concerns across multiple communities. Documents acknowledge that disabled people and the Orthodox Jewish community will be particularly affected by closure of Gateshead Leisure Centre, and that the council's own Thrive agenda is potentially at risk."
"The evaluation matrix employs inconsistent and unclear counting methods. This includes introducing negative scoring in one section, and using percentages of responses instead of numbers of responses in another. Both of these measures have the effect of rebalancing the weighting so that Gateshead Leisure Centre is penalised and the overall process is unfair."
Although we are awaiting updates from Gateshead Council, Councillor Robert Waugh is said to be 'in talks' with organisations to help save Gateshead Leisure Centre: "We have had conversations with organisations working with the community on this bid and they are regional and national organisations. They have been really positive about being able to achieve at least a break-even position with Gateshead Leisure Centre, for a number of reasons."
"With a new structure, it would be able to apply for different amounts of funding and different grants that the council is not able to access. Everyone is aware that things like this take a lot of planning. Nothing can be 100 per cent guaranteed, but from conversations we have had so far it is quite positive. We hope that, with an extension, something like that could be nearing a final stage of completion by the end of June."
There have also been reports that a commercial organisation could take over Birtley Leisure Centre.
However, the council report states: "It is too early to know whether any of the community groups will be capable of taking on responsibility for the relevant leisure centres. The groups have indicated that it would be more financially viable for them to take over an 'operational' building, however, this would require the council to continue to fund leisure services at the current level until such times as the community asset transfers were completed or were no longer to be pursued.
"As this process is estimated to take at least 6 – 8 months it means that the council would not be able to operate the services within the existing budget, nor deliver the outstanding savings immediately."
Residents will meet outside Gateshead Civic Centre from 9.15am on Tuesday 24 January, ahead of the cabinet meeting at 10am.
Radio Gateshead have contacted Gateshead Council for further comment.