Decisons on the future for Blandford Leisure Centre

The campaign to save the Blandford Leisure Centre faces a crucial hurdle on at County Hall in Dorchester when councillors will be asked to increase their support to the centre by 50 per cent. The county council currently provides nearly £70,000 a year to support joint use by the schools of the dry side of the centre as part of its children's services budget.

It has been asked by the Blandford Leisure Centre Action Group to increase its financial support to £100,000 for up to five years from April 2010, when North Dorset District Council will be withdrawing its £250,000 subsidy.

Blandford poolThe county council, whose cabinet will receive the community overview committee's recommendation at its meeting on 4 November, is under pressure to support other swimming facilities and leisure centres across Dorset.

Officers are recommending that members decide only in principle whether to offer further financial support to Blandford.

Sourcing the money would then be explored with the Dorset Strategic Partnership in an examination of the medium to long term future of sports and leisure centres countywide.

Steve Hitchings, chairman of the Blandford Leisure Centre Action Group, who plans to attend Monday's meeting, said: "I am disappointed at the recommendation and would have preferred a more definite undertaking."

In his letter to Dorset County Council leader Angus Campbell he says: "Blandford Leisure Centre should not be allowed to close. March 2010 is getting closer and closer, and your active support is critical."

North Dorset's leisure centre manager Nathan Fazakarley said: "The county needs to consider both the short-term issue to keep the centre open for the next three years while a management trust is put in place, but also to look at the bigger picture of leisure facilities throughout the county."

Informal discussions have already started with North Dorset District Council over the potential termination of the existing joint use arrangement should the leisure centre close.

A joint report by the county council's head of adult and community services, Steve Pitt, and head of children's services, John Nash, says: "It is one thing to collaborate to bring about more efficient service provision, but quite another for the county council to be asked to redirect scarce revenue funding to support a service from which the district council is removing funding as part of its own medium term financial planning.

"The county council has no duty and is not funded to subsidise leisure centres for the public or free swimming, but there is a responsibility to make provision for school children to have access to swimming pools. Given the outlook for public finances, there must be a concern that the current position in North Dorset may arise in other districts in the medium to long-term."

They suggest a joint approach through the Dorset Strategic Partnership is appropriate but warn: "Without financial support from other organisations, it is likely that Blandford Leisure Centre will close, despite the hard work and significant achievements by the Blandford Leisure Centre Action Group in securing commitments to some future funding from a range of organisations."

The leisure centre action group has already secured promises of funding from Blandford Town Council and from four neighbouring parish councils, which have between them pledged more than £80,000 for the first year at least.

Twelve other parishes have received presentations from Cllr Hitchings asking for support, but at least eight have declined consideration.

The action group has secured support from Blandford Forum Parish Church and Blandford Town Council is display banners on their properties to highlight the campaign.

On the website there is a map detailing which parish councils are prepared to contribute and which are not, in a bid to encourage supporters to lobby their councillors.

A contribution is also being sought from the Dorset Primary Care Trust, and nearly £1,400 has been raised in donations for the centre.

Dorset County ASA is represented on the Blandford Leisure Centre Action Group by Bob Holman ( and the County Swimming Co-ordinator for Dorset is Hayley MacDonald (

Click to view the report "Sports and Leisure Centres, Joint Use Centres and Swimming" for Dorset County Council's Community Overview Committee (5 Oct 09) / Audit and Scrutiny Committee (22 Oct 09) / Cabinet (4 Nov 09)

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22:35:51 09.10.2009
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