City bosses admit it will be “extremely challenging” to have a new leisure centre open in the outer west of Newcastle in time to meet the Government’s 2024 deadline.
Newcastle City Council was awarded almost £20m of Levelling Up funding last October for a state-of-the-art new facility to replace the closed West Denton swimming pool, which was shut down at the start of the Covid pandemic by operator GLL. The site is expected to have a 25m swimming pool, plus two other smaller pools, and a range of other facilities including a cafe, gym, library, and sports hall.
But there are worries that construction of the centre, which is expected to cost £22m in total, will not be able to keep up with the Government’s timescales. Under the terms of the funding agreement, the £19.8m awarded to the council must be spent by March 2024.
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That gives local officials just two years to design the new site, gain planning permission, and have construction completed. Asked what would happen if the building work falls behind schedule for whatever reason, the council indicated on Tuesday that it was unclear at this stage what the consequences would be.
At a cabinet meeting on Monday night, where councillors agreed to approve the financial package for the project, council leader Nick Forbes admitted that the local authority had been unsure it would be successful with the Levelling Up Fund bid and that there was concern over the capacity to deliver on it. But he added that it would now be a “top class” facility that would attract people from across the region and he had “full confidence” in it being delivered on time and on budget.
Lib Dem opposition leader Nick Cott asked for further reassurance that the “very, very tight” timeframe could be met and that the centre will open to the public as hoped in the summer of 2024.
Sean Trott, the council’s senior specialist on major projects, replied: “It is extremely challenging, that timescale. I have worked for the council for a lot of years and it is probably up there in terms of the challenge. But we are doing everything we possibly can to make sure we do deliver to that.”
Mr Trott said he was “pretty sure” that the new leisure centre will be completed on time, while a planning application for the site is due to be submitted imminently.
There was a major outcry after the current swimming pool was left closed by operator GLL, having first been shut at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Both it and the other existing facilities in West Denton Way would be demolished to make way for the replacement, which it is hoped can be open in 2024.