Conservatives at Pendle Borough Council say local leisure centres are safe despite opposition party claims that sites are being 'short-changed' with funding for maintenance and some could eventually be closed.

At its latest meeting, Conservative councillors on the borough's Policy & Resources Committee recommended that an amended sum of £136,000 from a Pendle Leisure Trust reserve fund be spent on priority maintenance work, rather than a higher figure of £482,000 originally recommended in a report by officers.

The committee also accepted plans for a strategic review costing £40,000 of leisure centres, although some councillors said the review suggested an ultimate reduction in the number of leisure centres, with Nelson and Colne replaced by one site. Sport England will contribute £10,000 towards the £40,000 review cost.

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But there was also some criticism of using paid consultants from outside the area to review local leisure centres.

Pendle Leisure Trust is an arms-length charitable organisation set up to run leisure facilities on behalf of the borough council. Established in 2000, it operating three leisure centres at Pendle Waves Centre, Pendle Leisure Centre in Colne and West Craven Sports Centre. As a not-for-profit organisation, any profit is invested back into its facilities and activities.

The trust also manages Colne Municipal theatre, the Inside Spa, Seedhill Athletics and Fitness Centre, Marsden Park Golf Course and the ACE arts, culture and enterprise venue in Nelson.

At the Policy & Resources Committee meeting, Conservatives said more money from the leisure trust reserve could be made available for less urgent maintenance work in the future, if needed.

Conservative Councillor David Cockburn-Price said: "All the activities of Pendle Leisure Trust are under review regarding budgets. We know some buildings are old and a 'shopping list' of work is included in report for this committee. Some work is still being considered, some might be addressed with other funding, such as the Nelson Town Deal, and some should be done as a priority in the short term, such as Pendle Leisure Centre roof. "

A short-list of the most urgent works came to a total of around £136,000, he said. The Pendle Leisure Centre roof, estimated at costing £55,000, might be funded by a Levelling-Up Fund. Some facilities at Colne or West Craven might benefit from small investments to offer new services and bring in new business, he said.

Conservative Coun Nadeem Ahmed, the committee chairman and Leader of the Council, backed the proposal and said: "Some of these tasks are urgent repairs. They have been looked at and discussed for quite a long time. I think it's time that some of the most urgent work was done at the earliest opportunity."

But Lib-Dem Coun David Whipp disagreed with Coun Cockburn-Price's description of some leisure centres as being 'old'.

Coun Whipp said: "Each one of those pools has been opened in quite recent times. It was my pleasure with the Lib-Dems to open Barnoldswick pool in 1980. So, really, it was only 'yesterday' that we were giving funding to projects. I do accept that buildings age and require upgrades and reviews. But it's very important to keep pushing-on investment so facilities will still be there in a few years' time.

He claimed Coun Cockburn-Price had not addressed a central point suggesting that some leisure facilities should be cut, with two centres being replaced by one.

He said: "Let's meet this head-on.. The underlying message is to cut leisure centres, to cut numbers. Let's not shy away from this because residents are keen to know what is going on rather than hiding behind other issues. "

With a further strategic review potentially suggesting two sites being replaced with one, he asked: "Will that be Nelson or Colne? What will happen to poor old West Craven?"

He added: "Conservatives on Pendle Borough Council are constantly short-changing leisure facilities. Reserves should be used to invest in facilities and keep them for the future, rather than cutting leisure and short-changing residents. The Tories want to fritter reserves away on other things. Referring to the short-list of priority work as a 'shopping list' is a disgrace."

Labour Coun Zafar Ali said: "In reality, more expenditure is required. I don't want to have to sit here and decide which leisure centre stays open and which has to close. Regarding the amended figure of £136,000, we should add that to the originally proposed £482,000."

Coun Ahmed said: "I have been around the council for a long time and have heard various debates about the leisure centres. Let me put this on the record. There is no intention from this administration about closing any facilities, so we need to move on from that debate now. This is about funding for urgent repairs. If other funding is needed, we can bring it back to this committee."

Coun David Cockburn-Price added: "I am new to politics and my aim is to make each of these facilities a success."

The review of leisure services by Max Associates consultancy is expected to take up to six months. There was no criticism of the company itself. Councillors were making a general comment about the council' s use of consultancies.

Coun Mohammad Hanif said: "In Brierfield, we have seen loads of consultants coming over the years, costing millions of pounds. People come from London or Liverpool and take our money. I'm a consultant too and I'm not against consultants. But we need to have meaningful consultation. We are here as representatives of the users. We are not people from somewhere else."

Speaking to Coun Cockburn-Price, he added: "There is a massive difference between £482,000 and £136,000. I know about business too. Someone has got their figures wrong. Either officers or you. Your figure looks very small to me."

Coun Sarah Cockburn-Price said leisure centres could offer more services in future, such as children's parties. She said: "We want these sites to be useful and attractive. They have good points but also bad points."

Coun Whipp said: "West Craven had a very good catering offering pre-pandemic and it could have it again, if investment is made."

The committee made three recommendations. One was to formally note that Pendle Leisure Trust will be financing a further detailed study on the provision of leisure facilities in the borough. The second was that the outcome of the study should be reported back to the Policy & Resources Committee. The third recommendation was that the committee agreed to allocate an emended sum of £136,000, not £482,000 as recommended in a report, from the Pendle Leisure Trust reserve for priority work on leisure centres.

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