Plans for new leisure centres in County Durham have been cast in doubt, as a council admitted the cost of the proposed improvements has sky-rocketed. 

The admission came after residents questioned the local authority’s ambition for providing the much-needed improved facilities across the county at a cabinet meeting this week. 

Councillors approved plans for new facilities at Chester-le-Street and Seaham in 2020, but progress has been marred by financial issues. A new leisure centre in Bishop Auckland was also approved as part of the plans and work to build the new site is underway. 

The former Civic Centre, Chester-le-Street, and St John’s Square, Seaham, had been outlined for the new-build facilities, but no progress has been made. Instead, an extra £10m has been ring-fenced for enhancing customer experience and facilities at Chester-le-Street and Seaham leisure centres.

The Northern Echo: Chester-le-Street leisure centreChester-le-Street leisure centre (Image: The Northern Echo)

Yet, residents questioned what will be delivered, given the funding won’t be able to cost a brand new facility. Alan Brown, of the Riverside Residents’ Association, said: “Can the cabinet give assurance that they will deliver our new leisure centre building and provide us with a timescale when vision becomes reality?”

James Rowlandson, cabinet member for resources, investments and assets, warned the council is facing “unprecedented financial pressures” and the cost of delivering the original programme has increased from £62.8m to in excess of £100m. An estimated extra £48m would be needed to realise the initial plans, which the councillor said would be “unaffordable and unsustainable”.  

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The Northern Echo: Seaham Leisure CentreSeaham Leisure Centre (Image: Google)Cllr Rowlandson added: “The aspiration of the council remains unchanged and new-build centres remain very much part of our future plans as and when funding allows. These improvements will be focused on making a positive difference to  customers, enhance the facilities and ensure the centre’s are structurally and mechanically sound going forward.”

A plan for the additional £10m investment is due to be developed in the coming months. 

Speaking after the meeting, Alan Brown fears the previously proposed new build site in Chester-le-Street is no more. He added: “What they will do with the site they had earmarked for it and all the consultation feedback, I don’t know. It’s like they have ignored everything people have said.” 

Further comments from the council revealed "it is not possible" to deliver the new leisure centres at this time. 

Cllr Rowlandson added: “We carried out extensive consultation when developing the proposals for Chester-le-Street and undertook a significant review to identify the optimum location for a new centre in Seaham.

"Unfortunately, it is not possible in the current financial climate to accommodate the additional further investment required to deliver new leisure centres at this time, but our aspiration remains to deliver new leisure centre facilities in Chester-le-Street and Seaham when funding allows.

"We have committed funding in the capital programme to improve the existing facilities in Chester-le-Street and Seaham, and I can assure the public that we have not ignored what people have said and that we will take account of the feedback we have received when developing future plans."