Start date put back for West Norfolk’s new leisure trust

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The launch of a new charitable trust which will run many of West Norfolk’s arts and leisure facilities has been delayed by a month.

Although Alive Leisure had been expected to begin work today, borough councillors were told its start date had been moved back to August 1 during a meeting on Thursday.

But plans to transfer funds and staff to the organisation were approved at the meeting, despite claims from opposition parties that there remained many unanswered questions about the scheme.

As previously reported, the trust is set to take over the management of facilities including Lynn’s Corn Exchange, Lynnsport and the St James fitness centre, plus the Downham Leisure Centre and the Oasis complex in Hunstanton.

Supporters argue that the scheme could save at least £500,000 a year through relief on business rates and VAT.

They also maintain that the trust would be able to access grant funding that the authority could not benefit from itself.

Under the administration’s proposals, which were backed by 30 votes to 10, £200,000 will be transferred from the council to the trust to help meet its set-up costs.

This angered Labour members, who pointed out they were told there was no money available for their proposal earlier this year to re-establish a limited pest control service.

But David Pope, the council’s cabinet member for ICT, leisure and public space, said the projected savings showed the scheme was “good business.”

He added: “There’s been a tremendous amount of work by the staff and we’ve looked at every angle possible to make this trust work. I’m totally confident it’s going to work.”

He also confirmed the delayed start but, on being asked when that was decided, told Labour leader John Collop: “It would have been at cabinet scrutiny (a previous meeting), but you didn’t ask the question.”

Independent Michael Pitcher claimed that, although the idea of transferring leisure assets to a trust had first been discussed in 2007, there was not enough detail about how it would work now.

He asked: “How can members honestly support this without having more detail of the operations of the trust?

“There are a lot of unanswered questions at the moment and I think this is being pushed through for the sake of being pushed through.”

And Labour’s Charles Joyce said he feared that the trust could be being “set up to fail” by the administration’s proposals.

But the council’s deputy leader, Brian Long, said: “The position we find ourselves in is one where we want arts and leisure facilities to thrive but we have to do it in as economic a way as possible. This proposal delivers that.

“The alternative would be when times do get hard, a trust can flourish and generate its own income.

“They will stay alone and can flourish in their own way and for people to vote to restrict the savings is a crass way of going on.”