Four years on, a decision has finally been made. We are to have new sports facilities based at Berry Edge, but the plan is no longer the massive £25 million project that was supposed to be deliverable for just £6 million of Derwentside council tax payers’ money.
As the promised flood of funders dwindled to a trickle, councillors faced a stark choice. They could either find £16 million – that’s an extra unbudgetted £10 million – to produce just the first phase of the original plan (minus the football, athletic and tennis elements) or come up with an alternative.
The cheapest option was to refurbish the Belle Vue Leisure Centre and add a new swimming facility to it. Councillor Keith English and I thought that was a good option, at around £8.5 million, to retain and update the level of facilities we have now, but it did offer fewer development opportunities for the long term – particularly in the capacity to develop extensive junior football, tennis, athletic and facilities or possibly, in the long term, to provide a new stadium for Consett AFC.
The Labour group, backed by most of the independents, proposed a new sports centre at Berry Edge with a £10 million cap on Derwentside Council’s share of development costs, with another 1.2 million to draw up a revised specification. The net result is that we will get less in terms of facilities than we have now, and pay more for them, but with a site which is capable of being expanded and developed if additional sources of funding can be found in the future.
It’s not ideal but Keith and I decided to go with this proposal because it offers some real benefits:
Development potential mentioned above
It remains affordable without completely asset-stripping Derwentside
Minimum disruption to leisure facilities during the building programme
Modern buildings with greater energy efficiency and lower running costs
The task now will be to hammer out an appropriate specification that will be well used and provide the facilities that local people want. It is essential that people make their voices heard. In particular bowlers will get another chance to argue their case for inclusion which was to have been denied in the original sports village plan.
And by the way, if you wonder why suddenly this article is full of figures, the controlling Labour Group had a sudden “deathbed conversion” to openness and democracy. In a U turn, despite the meetings agenda, they moved that the Press and Public be allowed into the meeting. It would be good to think that our campaign had changed their minds. Sadly, I fear that it just means they thought that their political advantage lay that way.