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Norwich sports centre to close by Christmas

PUBLISHED: 17:00 30 October 2010 | UPDATED: 20:03 30 October 2010

Wensum Lodge sports centre, which is set to close.

Wensum Lodge sports centre, which is set to close.

Archant © 2010

A Norwich sports centre is to become one of the first victims of council cutbacks after bosses at County Hall announced the sports hall at Wensum Lodge will be closed within two months.

Letters were sent out yesterday to more than 110 groups and individuals, who use the hall in King Street for sports such as badminton, squash and five a side football, informing them the sports hall will have to close before Christmas.

The hall will become one of the first casualties of the cuts following the coalition government’s spending review, with Norfolk County Council saying it cannot justify paying up to half a million to maintain it at a time when the authority needs to find £155m of savings over three years.

Ann Steward, cabinet member with responsibility for adult education at Norfolk County Council, said: “The sports hall was built in the 1960s and is really showing its age.

“The current roof now leaks when there is heavy rainfall. If we were to continue to allow the public to use it as they currently do, numerous repairs and upgrades would be needed - some of them urgently - that would in total cost the council an estimated £500,000.

“This is money the county council cannot justify spending when we’re facing a large funding shortfall and having to find huge savings across our services, especially given that the revenue gained from the sports hall doesn’t even cover its running costs.

“We have therefore decided to permanently close the sports hall on the Wensum Lodge site in Norwich from Sunday, December 19.

“I know this will come as a blow to the sports clubs and people who currently use it and it’s certainly not something we relish doing but it is one of the ‘tough decisions’ that everyone has heard so much about.”

She added there was a possibility that the squash courts at Wensum Lodge could yet survive.

She said: “We are currently talking to the Friends of Wensum Lodge, which is a charitable trust with a long-standing association with the sports hall, about the possibility of them taking over the management of the two squash courts that are connected to the hall.

“The squash courts aren’t subject to the same safety concerns that the main hall is so could potentially be kept open for a time should the Friends feel able to take this on.

“Although we have to close the sports hall, we are committed to doing all we can to help those people who have enjoyed using it over the years to find somewhere suitable to practise their sport after December.

“We have written to all the clubs who regularly use the sports hall to inform them of the closure and have provided them with a list and contact details of alternative facilities in the city - anyone else who would like this list can be sent it on request.”

Among the alternatives suggested by the county council are sports facilities at a string of schools around the city, the East Anglia Tennis and Squash Club at Lime Tree Road, the Bob Carter Centre in Drayton, Easton College, Norfolk Health and Racquets Club in Drayton High Road, Hellesdon, the Oasis Sports and Leisure Club in Pound Lane, Thorpe St Andrew and the University of East Anglia Sportspark.

The council has stressed that no jobs would be immediately lost because of the closure of the sports hall and that there were currently no plans to close the rest of Wensum Lodge, which offers adult education courses.

But she added that, as part of Norfolk’s Big Conversation, it is proposed that adult education is asked to review and reduce staffing.

The closure of the sports hall at Wensum Lodge is the second major blow for sports organisations around Norwich in recent years.

In autumn 2008 the sport and leisure club at Pinebanks was closed after Norwich Union Life and Pensions Ltd decided to sell up the 40 acre site in Thorpe St Andrew.

The controversial closure, which Norwich Union said was because of the running costs and the desire to provide more inclusive leisure provision for staff, caused outrage among the community with more than 30 clubs or societies who used it forced to find new homes.

The closure of more sports facilities comes as health charity Diabetes UK warned of a “shocking” rise in obesity

A “shocking” rise in obesity in the region - a danger they said can be averted with exercise and diet.

Earlier this year the county council tried to encourage more youngsters to get fit to fight off the risk of obesity with its Play 90 initiative.

Backed by Norwich City stars Grant Holt, Korey Smith and Wes Hoolahan, the campaign aimed to get youngsters doing 90 minutes of physical activity every day for 90 days.

• Anyone concerned about the sports hall closure at Wensum Lodge should call Judy Youngs, assistant head of service (learner services) at Norfolk Adult Education and Guidance Services on 01603 306520.

• What do you think of the decision to close the sports hall at Wensum Lodge? Call Evening News reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375, email dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk. You can also write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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