November start date as new Berwick leisure centre plans progress

Council leader Peter Jackson and Coun Cath Homer, cabinet member for culture, arts and leisure, at the Swan Centre in Berwick.
Council leader Peter Jackson and Coun Cath Homer, cabinet member for culture, arts and leisure, at the Swan Centre in Berwick.

The aim is to start work on Berwick’s new £20million leisure centre within six months, if councillors agree to get the ball rolling next week.

Northumberland County Council is planning to build a replacement facility on the site of the existing Swan Centre in Tweedmouth.

It will be a standalone leisure centre after proposals for a shared site with a new hospital, announced last August, were dropped in the face of heavy public opposition. It was recently confirmed that the new hospital will now be built on the current Berwick Infirmary site.

And if the local authority’s cabinet approves the next steps, as recommended, at its meeting next Friday (May 24), then the aim is to submit a planning application for the leisure project on Tuesday, May 28, with the two stages of procurement to be completed in July and September so that work can start on site in November.

Cabinet members are being asked to agree submission of the plans, completion of the detailed design, procurement of a main contractor and entering into a building contract.

The report to councillors explains that the work will be carried out in phases to ensure that the existing leisure centre continues to operate at all times until new facilities open to replace them.

The timetable suggests that the first phase, featuring the swimming pools (main, leisure and learner pools), spa, fitness suites, changing areas, lawn bowls, café and outdoor 3G pitch, would be completed by March 2021.

This would be followed by the new sports hall in January 2022 and the external works, including a play park, trim trail, hard and soft landscaped areas and a 175-space car park, by July that year.

The £20.5million estimated cost of the scheme would be funded by the £20million allocated by the county council and an assumed £500,000 grant from the Football Foundation for the 3G pitch.

The report explains that early discussions about this proposal have been ‘extremely positive’, but it warns that if the bid were unsuccessful, the project would be over-budget and ‘provision of the 3G pitch would need to be reviewed’.

The report also refers to the public consultation events, which took place in March, and claims they are only four suggestions made by respondees that will not be included in the proposal as it stands.

The main pool will not be appropriate for official competitions as it will be a ‘like-for-like design based on the current five-lane swimming pool’, while a skate park ‘could be considered separately, but is not within the scope or cost envelope of the scheme currently’.

There will not be any squash courts, apparently because demand is very low, but there are courts available at a local school, so the council and its leisure provider, Active Northumberland, are to talk to the school about use of its facility.

Finally, a suggestion for a bar in the indoor bowls area has not been included as ‘bar facilities are both costly to install and operate’.

There will be a café in the ground-floor entrance adjacent to the soft play and pool-viewing area and there ‘may be options to provide additional catering services as and when required, which could include portable bar options for larger events and functions’.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service