COUNCILLORS have voiced concerns about the costs and timescales of projects to transform County Durham’s leisure facilities.

A council watchdog heard how the £78m programme to build and refurbish leisure centres across the county was progressing.

Refurbishments and improvements are planned for Abbey, Peterlee, Spennymoor, Stanley, Chester-le-Street, Newton Aycliffe, Shildon, Wolsingham and Freeman's Quay.

New leisure centres are to be built in Bishop Auckland and Chester-le-Street, with options to be considered for a centre in Seaham.

Alison Clark, the council’s head of culture, sport and tourism, described a series of projects at various stages of development, promising "a really comprehensive consultation".

She told Durham County Council's environment scrutiny committee: “We expect most of the refurb projects to be on site within 2022 and 2023.

"Some of them are already on site or certainly they are in the design stage, and that is all going to plan.

“It’s a subject that is really close to people’s hearts. We’re making sure we’re talking to the wider public, to our health colleagues, to the sports clubs, to the partners who all use our services.”

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She said she was particularly proud of working with young people and disability groups “to make sure our services meet the needs of our whole population”.

Councillor Bill Moist criticised elements of the proposed Riverside refurbishment, saying: “There’s been no consultation with the people of Chester-le-Street.

“It really needs an injection of more and better staff and more attraction to the community.”

Ms Clark replied: “We’ll be starting that consultation imminently.

“We have some good plans in place to make sure we talk to as many people as possible because that one is a really key site for us.”

Cllr Moist also asked about new build leisure centres: “£78m but there’s no designs.

“This was first floated in 2019. When is it going be delivered? Are we going to be sitting here in 2025 saying it’s going to come in 2027?

“People are asking, when is this going to happen?”

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Ms Clark said: “We have done an immense amount of work.

“What sits behind those slides is a highly comprehensive cost plan.”

She said they had a basic design for new builds which would become bespoke, and they were “really confident” about costs.

But timescale was “harder to plan for” and needed more work.

She added: “The team are doing a great job of really honing down on those figures, really making sure we are getting the best value.

“It is fair to say that we’ve worked very hard on that."

She said construction industry issues linked to Brexit, inflation and the war in Ukraine were "more difficult to manage".

Cllr Eddy Adam said there were more costs "clearly coming through the pipeline" and questioned where the money would come from.

He said reported construction price increases of 16% to 23% in 2020 to 2021 were "a bit scary".

The Northern Echo: Cllr Eddy Adam. Picture: Durham County Council.Cllr Eddy Adam. Picture: Durham County Council.

He added: “There should be some concern in relation to the ongoing increases in cost.

"When will they actually be clearly identified?

“When are we expecting these projects to be finalised? I’m sure the costs are going to be a lot higher."

Ms Clark responded: “The budget was approved some time ago but the figures and the cost planning have been continuous since then.

“What we’re doing is looking all the time to make sure that cost envelope can be maintained."

Cllr Peter Atkinson asked about funding for Ferryhill, saying smaller towns got “left behind”, with the response that a future report would take a “more holistic look”.

Asked about a proposed centre in Seaham, Ms Clark said a report would be due in the coming months, and they would have to look at the wider budget.