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Daniel Holland

Gateshead MP renews call for action on funding 'crisis' putting leisure centres at risk of closure

Gateshead’s MP has renewed calls for Government action to solve a ‘crisis’ threatening his town’s leisure centres.

Ian Mearns has called for a new debate in Parliament on the future of struggling leisure services, with two of Gateshead Council’s beloved community facilities earmarked for closure. Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Mr Mearns warned that the pressure on overstretched local government finances was “intensifying”.

Gateshead Leisure Centre and Birtley Swimming Centre are facing closure under council budget cut plans, though were last week given a three-month reprieve. The council’s proposals, which come as it tries to slash millions more from its budgets having already lost £179m from its annual spending power since 2010, have sparked fury from local campaigners horrified at the prospect of the centres being lost.

Read More: Gateshead leisure centres facing closure threat get three-month reprieve for rescue talks

Last week, Gateshead Council agreed to spend £900,000 of its reserves to delay a decision on the facilities’ closure – but warned it cannot keep them open indefinitely if community asset transfer cannot be arranged. A separate review is also being launched into the future of Gateshead International Stadium.

Mr Mearns said last Thursday: “The crisis in local government funding is intensifying, particularly in my local Gateshead Council. Our leisure centre, previously a venue for top-level and international sporting events, is now, sadly, earmarked for closure, along with its swimming pool, which is situated next door.

Gateshead Leisure centre, Saltwell. (Newcastle Chronicle)

“Gateshead International Stadium could well be in the firing line; the home of Gateshead Harriers and Gateshead Football Club could be in the firing line because the local authority no longer has the revenue to support its maintenance, upkeep and running. So may we have a debate in Government time on the sustainability of our sporting and activity centres?”

In December, the Labour MP joined activists, ChronicleLive, sports clubs, and the council in calling for the Government to step in with funding to save the leisure centres – but none has been forthcoming. Bodies including Swim England and the Local Government Association have also joined forces to plead with ministers to provide the leisure sector with support to cover the cost of spiralling energy bills.

Penny Mordaunt, the Conservative Leader of the House of Commons, replied in last week’s debate: “It is a subject that is very much recognised, and obviously we need facilities in which to do those activities. I know that the questions to that Department are not until a little later in the year, so I will write again encouraging Ministers to engage with the hon. Gentleman to see what other funding streams could be accessed for his constituency.

"We have offered him some further time next week for the Backbench Business Committee. I know that that is short notice, but I hope that he will consider taking it up, because there are clearly bids from many Members on a whole range of topics.”

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