Council set to give £150,000 to struggling Derbyshire leisure centre at risk of closure

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A Derbyshire council is set to give £150,000 to a struggling leisure centre at risk of closure after nearly 50 years.

At an Amber Valley Borough Council meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, July 19) the authority is due to give the cash to Belper Leisure Centre to help its prospective buyers shore up a purchase.

The leisure centre has hit stark financial straits with a financial black hole of £360,000 this year primarily due to an increase in energy bills.

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It faced closure by the end of June and the redundancy of 70 staff after 49 years but the prospect of a sale by a currently unnamed buyer has helped stave off the demise of the facility.

Belper Leisure Centre. Photo: PKF Smith CooperBelper Leisure Centre. Photo: PKF Smith Cooper
Belper Leisure Centre. Photo: PKF Smith Cooper

A purchase from the new company is now due in August, borough council papers detail. The company has worked with the council to work out how a rescue package could be provided to help the facility survive in the interim.

This involves the council bringing forward the next three years of £40,000 grants to the centre into the current financial year, totalling £150,000. The council details that £120,000 of this will come from the authority’s reserves, but this does mean that money will no longer be needed in the next three budgets.

It says: “There is a risk to this approach that if BLCL fails then the funding will be lost but this needs to be considered against the imminent closure of the facility with an immediate loss of 70 jobs and the total loss of the facilities to the community and to Belper School.

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“The proposed purchaser requires a funding commitment from the borough council, Belper Town Council (subject to agreement) and Belper School in order to be able to complete the acquisition of the centre and it is anticipated that all parties will have confirmed this in late July ready for the acquisition process to take place in early August.”

The council details that it had to assess the legality of helping out a leisure centre it does not own when it has a financial agreement around competition against the three leisure centres (Alfreton, Heanor and Ripley) it funds through a long-running PFI agreement – which cost it more than £4 million over the past year.

Matt McGuinness, chairman of the new Friends of Belper Leisure Centre group, which has more than 1,200 members, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “That is a really pragmatic and positive way of dealing with it. It will help with what the leisure centre needs, which is some cash flow.

“Memberships are up and usage is up. People are supporting it and this gives the company time and space to get things sorted. It is brilliant.”

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Derbyshire County Council, which built the facility in 1974, has previously said it would be “inappropriate” for it to help plug the centre’s finances but has been approached for further comment.

Belper School, which uses the centre as an exam hall and for PE lessons, as well as sharing its car park, has also been approached for comment.

Nick Goforth, the school’s head teacher, previously said he did not expect a significant impact from the potential sale and was working closely with the facility to help find a solution.

A total of 40 clubs use the leisure centre and the annual splash academy swim programme has more than 460 participants. The leisure centre has 1,500 members and there were 311,118 visits over the last year.