NORTH-EAST council bosses are considering closing six leisure centres as they continue to struggle with Government cuts, The Northern Echo has learned.

A leaked report shows Durham County Council is considering closing the five of its 18 leisure centres that it feels offer the poorest value for money – subject to public consultation.

Centres in Ferryhill, Coxhoe, Crook, Ushaw Moor, Sherburn and Pity Me are under threat, but the council last night said that no final decisions have been taken.

Abbey Leisure Centre, in Pity Me, is also under threat because of its proximity to other centres that are not affected by the report. The measures could save up to £1.2m a year and are part of a drive to save £125m over four years as cuts to tackle the budget deficit take effect.

Although the council has made it clear it is no longer in a position to fund the six leisure centres, one of its two “exit strategies” suggests third parties could retain the facilities at no cost to the council.

Such a scheme saw the running of the Spectrum Leisure Centre, in Willington, transfer from the former Wear Valley District Council to the Slam Community Development Trust in 2007.

The independent leisure centre charges gym users £5 a session, compared with £7 at Ferryhill, which receives subsidies that equate to an extra £4.31 per visitor.

The second exit strategy proposes demolition and disposal of the sites, which were visited on more than 500,000 occasions by users last year.

Special consideration will be given to clubs and sporting organisations that use the leisure centres.

Deerness Gymnastics Club, which has produced several national champions, has already been singled out as a potential operator for Deerness Leisure Centre, in Ushaw Moor, Durham.

Alternatively, the report suggests “recycling capital receipts” to provide facilities for the club at one of the council’s other sites.

While the report acknowledges a shortage of swimming pools across the county, Glenholme, in Crook – the only one of the six threatened centres to have a pool – costs the taxpayer more than £250,000 a year and needs more than £500,000 in investment.

If implemented, the report says 90 per cent of the county’s residents would still be within ten minutes of a leisure centre.

David Farry, a Durham county councillor for Ferryhill, said the closures would hit the county’s poor the hardest.

He said: “The reality is people from poor households without cars are not going to travel.

“Ferryhill, like many other communities on the shortlist, has already lost investment and provision and cannot afford to lose any more.

“These leisure centres need to be retained and, clearly, they need to be run more efficiently and it is disappointing that the council is quick to just write them off.”

Elsewhere in the region, other councils are facing similar challenges.

A spokesman for Middlesbrough Council said leisure centre users were still being consulted to decide where cuts should be made.

Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council confirmed there were no plans to close any leisure or youth centres, but there are proposals to reduce services at youth centres.

Hambleton District Council was unable to confirm whether leisure centres would be affected by budget cuts.

In Richmondshire, the main swimming pools are operated by the Richmondshire Leisure Trust and would not be affected by cuts made by Richmondshire District Council.

The trust does receive a grant from the district council each year, which is likely to be cut by £100,000 a year under proposals that will be decided by councillors tomorrow.

However, leisure facilities across Stockton Borough Council are managed by Tees Active, which is investing £18.5m in regenerating Billingham Forum.

Darlington Borough Council has proposed to expand services at the Dolphin Centre as part of its review of cultural services, although opening times will be changed and some facilities may be closed at quieter times.

Staff hours are expected to be reduced, but Eastbourne Sports Complex will be unaffected.

If the proposed Durham County Council closures are implemented, the equivalent of 61 full-time jobs will be lost, as well as casual workers.

The report has been circulated to the ruling Labour Party, which will consider its contents before a final version is discussed by the council’s cabinet on March 2.

As it stands, the report seeks authorisation to consult on the closures.

Terry Collins, director of neighbourhood services at Durham County Council, said: “A review of sport and leisure facilities is identified in the council’s medium-term financial plan, which will go before full council on Wednesday.

“This plan proposes £125m of savings over four years in response to national public spending reductions.

“The proposal involving the review of facilities and rationalisation of sports development activities identifies a potential saving of £1.3m.

“However, no decisions have yet been made on the details of these savings and, before those choices are made, there would be full consultation with the public and partner agencies.”