COUNCIL chiefs and its leisure offshoot have announced plans to close a leisure centre in East Lancs in July.

The cost-of-living crisis, rising inflation and rising demands have been blamed by Rossendale Council and Rossendale Leisure Trust (RLT) for axing Whitworth Leisure Centre. 

The Market Street site includes a gym and a pool and was previously run by Community Leisure Association Whitworth (CLAW) but taken on by the leisure trust three years ago.

The pool's repair and maintenance has been the focus of debate in recent months.

RLT, an arms-length charity, runs leisure and culture services on behalf of Rossendale Council, such as Ski Rossendale, Rawtenstall’s Marl Pits leisure centre, Haslingden’s Adrenalin Centre, the Pioneer Gym at Bacup and the Whitaker Museum in Rawtenstall.

Councillors attended a meeting on Monday night where the details were discussed in private.

Back in December ‘scaremongering’ by Conservatives over the future of the Whitworth pool was criticised by Community First and Labour councillors.

A joint council and trust statement says: "As higher proportions of council budgets are absorbed by statutory [legally required] and front-line services, councils’ ability to maintain provision in sport and leisure has come under increasing under pressure. 

“The challenges and the impact of inflationary pressures along with the operating costs is forcing Rossendale Council and Rossendale Leisure Trust to implement a wide range of actions to ensure both can continue to operate.

“The council and trust took over the running of the leisure centre from Community Leisure Association Whitworth (CLAW) three years ago when it was at risk of closure. Although the centre was losing money at that point, the leisure trust had a solid plan to reduce the loss.

“But the pandemic and the subsequent massive increases in energy bills, along with staffing costs has seen this loss balloon to £280,000 per year. The trust’s overall costs for wages and energy have increased by over (sic) £1m since before Covid. 

"A report by independent financial experts Grant Thornton has stated if action is not taken to immediately address the budget deficit, both the council and the trust could be at significant financial risk over the next two years. “

In Rossendale, one of the recommendations made by consultants is Whitworth Leisure Centre should be closed as soon as possible, the statement added. The closure will come into effect from July.

Borough leader Cllr Alyson Barnes said back in 2019 it was thought the leisure trust had become a "sustainable organisation", making a small profit.

“But the cost of living crisis has since created problems for the council and the leisure trust," she added.

"We cannot manage the new costs. And we are not alone. A Local Government Association report has highlighted the situation for councils across the country. Conservative governments have hollowed-out councils.]

"We are consulting with leisure trust staff. We think some people will be re-allocated to other locations in the borough. There is also some degree of turnover in staff, so the impact might not be too severe. That said, there are some members of staff who belong to Whitworth but, hopefully, we can minimise any impact.”

Despite the closure plan, Cllr Barnes said the borough’s leisure ‘vision’  project for future services and venues was still relevant.

The vision project was outlined at a council meeting in the winter. It included ideas for a cluster of key venues across Rossendale. Councillors have raised calls for a geographic spread of facilities for the east, centre and west of Rossendale.

Cllr Barnes added: “Work has been done and the need is there. We are in advanced talks with Sport England and expect to deliver at least some of that vision.  We are renovating tennis courts and pitches anyway, and there is funding from the Lawn Tennis Association and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.”