‘Declining’ sport has no place in £20m leisure centre

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Dunstable Leisure Centre.
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L13-673 11/6/13 MBLN Dunstable Leisure Centre. wk 24 AOD JX ENGPNL00120131106154109

Indoor bowls enthusiasts at Dunstable Leisure Centre have been advised to join clubs further afield or try other activities for the over 65s when the venue is refurbished.

The £20.1million revamp will see the Court Drive building closed for an estimated 18 months.

But while the work will see the crumbling centre modernised, indoor bowls has not been included in the redesigned layout as it is a “declining sport”.

Central Beds Council’s Executive yesterday received a 478-signature petition from South Beds Indoor Bowling Club over the sport’s removal.

A club spokesman told the meeting that that the indoor bowls facility was vital and must be included in the redesign.

He said: “We believe the council would be discrimating against older people when they refurbish the leisure centre as most of the plans are for young people.”

He then called for CBC to provide the club with an alternative venue in Dunstable before any closure for the refurbishment.

Councillor Ian Dalgarno said the council had to look at the building’s use as a whole.

He said: “The indoor bowls hall is a very large space equivalent to the size of a football pitch.”

“It is only 4 per cent of the overall use of the centre. Very few young people take it on. It is a declining sport.

“It is difficult to give such a large space to a declining sport, especially when there are other clubs nearby.”

He said it would cost £2-3m to build an alternative venue which hadn’t been budgeted for, and added that an external funding body would want to see a better take up of the sport before committing any grant cash.

He also pointed out that there were four bowls facilities in Bedfordshire, the new leisure centre would have short mat bowls and that other activitiees for those aged 65+ would be provided such as swimming, the sports hall, and group exercise.

Dunstable Swimming Club also presented a 257-signature petition to the Executive meeting which called for a new-build venue, rather than a refurbishment. The clubs says an 18-month closure would be “catastrophic” as members would seek other groups to join.

The club also sees the need for new facilities as an opportunity for a competitive standard pool to be built.

But Councillor Dalgarno said the court house site had been investigated and was too small for a new leisure centre and an out of town base would not suit Dunstable.

He said the council had received “very positive feedback” from swimmers in the area about what was being provided in the refurbishment.

These included new changing rooms which would incread capacity from 60 to 100 people, a pool redesign, disabled access to changing rooms and poolside, segregated school changing facilities, improved water filtration and drainage.

He said the council would continue to discuss other improvement sought by the swimming club, but that any decisions would be subject to identifying the funding.

He said: “This is a community pool, not a competition pool. There are already two competition pools in Central Beds and an Olympic pool in Luton.”

Councillor Dalgarno said the council appreciated the need to keep the length of the closure to a minimum, adding: “An important part of our discussion with the contractors will be to seek to minimise the length of the build.”

Executive chairman, Councillor James Jamieson, added: “It will be a difficult transition but we are very, very keen to have a state-of-the-art leisure centre in the centre of Dunstable.”