Half a million pounds redevelopment of indoor bowls hall at Hudson Leisure Centre - but council say they will ensure club 'survive'
PUBLISHED: 17:19 18 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:16 19 September 2018
Half a million pounds could be ploughed into the Hudson Leisure Centre in Wisbech to create a state-of-the-art fitness facility - at the cost of the indoor bowls club losing their hall.
The ambitious plan by Freedom Leisure, who will take over the running of centres in Fenland later this year, would see the hall – currently used by the Hudson Bowls Club – transformed into a gym, dance and spinning room.
Fenland District Council say that the redevelopment could see a significant leap in revenue to £140,000 a year from £17,000 if proposals were to get the go ahead.
Many senior councillors are angry that the council is being portrayed in a bad light over the decision since the rewards for the council are considerable and have been well known for some time.
Not discussing it in detail earlier was to ensure contracts were signed with Freedom Leisure ahead of any bad publicity.
The decision to proceed with the contract to Freedom was delegated to the portfolio holder Cllr Michelle Tanfield and later to Cllr Mark Buckton when he replaced her.
Councillors are insistent that Cllr Tanfield’s comments to them about the decision coming “out of the blue” are wrong and that another back bench councillor’s remarks of it being “shambolic and inept” is also wrong. Cllr Tanfield has not responded to call for an interview.
Other councillors have waded in, privately, to point out that a previous bowls club at the Hudson was closed only three years ago and left owing the council £20,000 that remains unpaid.
“All we here is Wisbech, Wisbech, Wisbech,” one said. “Members of our group must recognise that there are other parts of Fenland covered by this council.
“The idea that we could somehow agreed to make an exception of the bowls club and sacrifice massive investment and much more scope for others to use the Hudson is ridiculous.”
It comes as leisure centres across Fenland are costing the council around £250,000 to £300,000 a year, as running costs are not being met.
However, the move has caused uproar among members of the popular bowls club, who said last week they should have been informed about the decision which potentially puts their club at threat.
Councillor Mark Buckton, portfolio holder for leisure and young people at Fenland District Council, said: “There never has been any intention to close down the bowls club and it’s really important for elderly people to have this companionship in the community.
“Part of Freedom Leisure running it was that various options were put forward and redevelopment of the bowls hall at Hudson Leisure Centre was one.
“Freedom will invest half a million pounds into the leisure centre creating a state-of-the-art games and spinning room.
“It’s a significant investment on their part. Ultimately it is a bigger and better facility for the people of Wisbech and brilliant for the town.
“The £17,000 a year revenue would be increased to £140,000 if redeveloped. It’s a significant amount – about £1,000 per member of the bowls club.”
The club, which grew out of the ashes of a previous group, has recently enjoyed spectacular success and won a 12 month lease under Fenland’s ‘open for business objective’.
Cllr Buckton said: “We are not blind to the fact that there is gong to be a group of people that will be disappointed.
“We will do everything in our power for the bowls club to continue to do what they enjoy. There is a large sports hall there that could be an option for them.
“Freedom has said that they will provide equipment for short mat bowling which is becoming increasingly popular too.
“We have said to them that we will help them and find alternative venues. I do understand that they may not want to travel, so we will try and identify as many options as we can.
“We will do what we can to enable the club to survive.”
A further meeting is due to be set up with the club in the coming weeks.
However, membership secretary of the club, Roger Rawson, said he felt that Freedom Leisure were “deluded”.
He added: “We do not play short mat bowls that is a completely different game. We are county championship level. Some of our pensioners come every single day to chat to their mates – what will they do now? I fear they will vegetate.
“If we were to relocate then they would have to build us a new green. All the property in the hall belongs to us and we will not let them just rip it out.
“Fenland District Council has not done their homework at all and this has been swept under the carpet. Freedom are deluded.”