A council has been accused of adopting a “postcode lottery” in County Durham after plans for two new leisure centres were cast in doubt. 

Residents of Seaham and Chester-le-Street have told of their shock after Durham County Council revealed it is currently unable to progress plans for new-build facilities in the two towns due to funding challenges. 

The former Civic Centre, Chester-le-Street, and St John’s Square, Seaham, sites had been outlined for new leisure centres in 2020, but no progress has been made. Instead, the council announced an extra £10m has been ring-fenced for enhancing customer experience and facilities.

The council’s ambition for improving the leisure offering in the region was questioned by Labour councillors at a full council meeting earlier this week. Cllr Alison Batey said: “There seems to be a postcode lottery within the county of which the leadership chooses to invest in and which are ignored. 

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

“In Chester-le-Street we had promises of a new leisure centre. We were told by officers during the extensive consultation exercise that the current one is in the wrong location, is no longer suitable as it’s over 50 years old and not fit for purpose, and the solution was for a new build. The location had support from the community, yet now we are being told this is not possible.”

The opposition party also claimed the council has not budgeted for repair works at leisure centres in Shildon or Meadowfield but improvements in Spennymoor, Woodhouse Close (Bishop Auckland) and Teesdale (Barnard Castle) have progressed. Labour members also pointed out that the Abbey Leisure Centre, Pity Me, has also recently been upgraded. 

Cllr Batey added: “This is going to be a very difficult message to give residents, especially balancing this against Abbey Sports Centre with refurbishments costing double the original allocated budget, coming in at just under £5m.”

However, the current Joint Administration in charge of the council said it was the former Labour administration which approved the Abbey Sports Centre upgrades. 

Cllr Kevin Shaw, whose Dawdon ward covers Seaham, said the town’s leisure centre “will probably get some new curtains and a lick of paint” and said the six Labour councillors in the area are why the council “pulled the plug”. 

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The Northern Echo: Seaham Leisure CentreSeaham Leisure Centre (Image: Google)

His concerns were echoed by party leader, Cllr Carl Marshall. He added: “It’s simply wrong to cut leisure and frontline community services while child poverty and mortality rates are going up and health inequalities soar.”

But Cllr James Rowlandson, cabinet member for resources, investment and assets, said the decision is not down to favouritism but 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.

He told the meeting: “We had only £40m in the budget for our leisure centres and we would need a further £50m to complete CLS and Seaham leisure centre. As members will know, other councils are withdrawing from leisure. Gateshead have closed theirs and even Newcastle had £20m levelling up funding but shelved the idea because of revenue costs.”