The new facility, on The Terrace site, Gas House Lane, was unanimously given the green light by by Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee at its first remote meeting on Tuesday.
Contractors will now be appointed so that work can begin in the autumn, meaning it is expected to be completed by spring 2022. The original projected completion date was October 2021.
The application had been due to be decided at the March 3 meeting, but was withdrawn from the agenda at late notice because there were some concerns from the Environment Agency about the proposed flood-defence scheme.
The proposals had only sparked two objections and one letter of support, but had to be decided by the committee as the applicant is the county county itself.
The local authority’s planners did have some concerns about the development, particularly in relation to the design and scale of the building, but recommended approval after coming to an ‘on-balance’ conclusion that the benefits of the new leisure centre outweigh these concerns.
Coun Richard Dodd said: “I welcome a bit of investment in this area. It has had problems with flooding in the past, but now there’s a lot of stuff down on the ground to protect the area.
“The current leisure centre is looking a bit tired and sad and so let’s move forward positively, especially at this time in the world.”
Coun Barry Flux, who moved approval, added: “It’s excellent to see more investment in Northumberland, in this case in Morpeth, it’s much needed.
“Let’s get on with it, let’s get the economy going, which will be needed after everything that’s going on.”
The leisure provision will include a six-lane swimming pool with spectator gallery, a learner pool, spa facilities, a four-court sports hall, a new 100-station fitness suite, a dedicated spinning studio, large fitness studios, a café and soft play.
The proposals also incorporate a new community services hub that will see the town’s library move back to its former home on Gas House Lane, a customer service centre and a new adult learning facility.
Parking will be located to the west of the building and a pedestrian boulevard will be incorporated to provide enhanced connectivity with Bridge Street.
Following the decision, council leader Peter Jackson described the plans as ‘ambitious, forward-looking and eagerly awaited’, while Coun Cath Homer, the cabinet member for leisure, said she was delighted at the approval, which means ‘we can soon offer more great opportunities for people living in Morpeth and the surrounding area to improve and maintain a healthy lifestyle’.
Mark Warnes, the interim chief executive of Active Northumberland, which will run the centre, said: “It’s great that such rapid progress has been made in designing and developing the new centre and that the green light has now been given to start building it.
“The new centre will be a real asset for the town and a wonderful place, with great facilities, for residents and visitors to enjoy for many years to come.”