CLOSE AND REPLACE: Splash closure and replacement criticised by opposition chief
A vision to close and replace a much-loved Teesside leisure centre has been criticised by an opposition leader.
Stockton town centre is to see a vast overhaul with the Castlegate Shopping Centre to be demolished next year to make way for a waterfront urban park, offices and a new £15m leisure hub.
Splash will be replaced with a “like-for-like” leisure centre featuring modern pool facilities, a gym and studios, and flexible spaces for therapeutic rehabilitation.
It is hoped the rejigged vision will boost footfall to Stockton’s high street alongside the opening of the Globe Theatre to the north aiming to reduce an over-reliance on retail seen in the centre at the moment.
But Conservative group leader Cllr Tony Riordan believed the plan to replace the Church Road leisure centre “beggared belief” given the site only opened at the start of the century.
The opposition leader said: “The facility is only 20 years old, it has had a substantial upgrade a number of years ago, however we’re now told it needs £5m spent on it in a couple of years’ time, so it’s better to build a new one at £15m.
“Not bigger or better, just like for like and at the other end of the town centre.
“Apparently being at the other end of the High Street will also increase footfall into the town centre?
“Having ambition as a council should never be underestimated, but when the provision of basic services such as repairing pot-hole laden roads, clearing of weed filled gutters and litter takes second place, those responsible need to take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror.”
Splash first opened in 2001 after it was transformed from the old Stockton Swimming Pool.
It doubled in size after a refurbishment in 2008 and 2009.
Council reports show Splash will cost more than £5m outside current budgets to maintain and repair in the coming years.
Cllr Riordan has accused the council of having a bad track record of “spending and wasting” money.
Labour leader Cllr Bob Cook told the Local Democracy Reporting Service last week how the existing hub needed “quite a lot” of investment – pointing to how its fibreglass flumes needed work soon.
Now the council chief hit back at Cllr Riordan’s latest criticism of the revamped vision – labelling it a “misleading attack”.
“Cllr Riordan knows full well that the reason council services have suffered over the last decade or so is down to the Government making huge cuts to the funding we receive to deliver those services,” said Cllr Cook.
“As for his criticism of our revised plans for Stockton town centre, we make no apology for being ambitious and in actual fact, what we’ve done here is move very quickly to capitalise on an opportunity.
“That’s an opportunity to buy Dunedin House – which I’m pleased he agrees with – and build a new, modern leisure facility that will be a draw for people coming into Stockton town centre for generations to come.
“Furthermore, it’s also an opportunity to combine that new leisure centre with other community facilities on the Stockton Waterfront site which, it has to be said, is generating a lot of interest from other parties and will become all the more attractive thanks to having these additional facilities located there.
“Add to that the fact that Splash is in need of millions of pounds worth of maintenance and repairs and it’s pretty clear why we’ve decided to do what we’re doing, and why our plans to step in and make badly-needed changes in our town centres are getting so much positive national attention.”
“Change of direction”
Hundreds of council staff will also move across to Dunedin House, in Thornaby, as part of the new town centre vision – ending original moves to accommodate staff in buildings next to the riverside park.
A new library, a new register office, meeting spaces and a customer service centre are also in the offing.
Talks over North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust opening a separately funded facility on the High Street are also continuing with council officials.
Cllr Riordan believed there were positives in the rejigged plans – saying the NHS facility in the town centre was a “step in the right direction”.
And the Conservative added the decision to purchase and update Dunedin House for £8m was a sensible one “on the face of it”.
But he aired concerns about the “speed and direction of change” to the wider town centre scheme – and how it appeared the NHS had been briefed before councillors.
Cllr Cook said the NHS had approached the council about wanting to build something on the High Street – not the other way around.
He added: “They’re looking to reinvest in their Hardwick site and if they reinvest, they need to move staff off site – especially administrative workers.
“If there are some diagnostic services on the high street, people will find it easier to travel there as some people have to catch two buses to get to Hardwick.
“It seems to be they’re criticising for the sake of criticising.”
Plans for the waterfront park will go to the vote at Stockton Council’s planning committee on Monday (August 9).
Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter
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