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Bosses of West Norfolk's Alive Leisure trust slam council over switch plans

By David Hannant, Local Democracy Reporter

Bosses of a charitable trust which runs leisure services in West Norfolk have slammed the council for creating doubt over its future.

Alive Leisure was set up by West Norfolk Council in 2013 to run the King’s Lynn Corn Exchange, Lynnsport, St James Pool, Downham Leisure and Hunstanton Oasis.

The management of the centres was discussed by the council behind closed doors, as it tries to take back control of the facilities.

The King's Lynn Corn Exchange on the Tuesday Market Place. (5440174)
The King's Lynn Corn Exchange on the Tuesday Market Place. (5440174)

Council officials hope the transition from the current trust management to a new authority-owned company will be completed this summer.

But, in the trust’s annual report, which was on the agenda at a council panel meeting this week, Alive Leisure chairman Peter Lemon said the body had faced significant challenges last year.

They included a drop in the number of visitors to its swimming facilities, prolonged roadworks and reduced footfall in Lynn town centre.

He also stated the trust faced an “unprecedented level of uncertainty” caused by the borough council’s decision to instigate a review.

An options appraisal reviewed the possibility of handing over the services to a not-for-profit local authority company or community interest company.

The latter model has been used by the council in recent years in a bid to generate funds for the maintenance and improvement of flood defences along the borough’s coast.

Mr Lemon said the council looked to reduce the leisure and culture subsidy by £1.2m, adding: “In effect providing the services at nil cost to the borough.

“The trust is however committed to maintaining a constructive dialogue with the [council] during this period of uncertainty.”

Some 1.4m people visited the Alive Leisure facilities last year but the trust had fallen short on some of its targets, with total income calculated at around £5.2m – a little below the £5.4m anticipated at the start of the year.

The trust chief executive Simon McKenna said one potential outcome of the options appraisal could lead to the service arrangements made between Alive Leisure and the council to end.

“We are concerned by the [council’s] proposal received during this year to review the future delivery of leisure and cultural services,” he added.

A spokeswoman for West Norfolk Council said the council is continuing to target a transfer over to the new company at the end of June this year.

Officials have previously said they expect to continue working “positively” with Alive Leisure while the transition work is completed.

They also expect minimal disruption for service users during the transition period.

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