Council leaders have signalled their intent to offer lifelines to community buildings facing uncertain futures due to spiralling energy costs after the management of a centre used by several hundred people every week announced it could no longer afford to run it.
North Yorkshire County Council leader Councillor Carl Les and Richmondshire District Council leader Councillor Angie Dale have said numerous community buildings would potentially be put in peril by the rising costs and that publicly-funded assistance could be needed to keep them running.
The leaders were speaking after Richmondshire Leisure Trust announced it would end its management of Colburn Leisuire Centre on November 30 as its utility bills would rise from £15,000 last year to an estimated £72,000 this year, a 380 per cent increase.
Numerous elected members appeared taken aback as it was announced at a full meeting of Richmondshire council how the trust had taken Colburn Town Council by surprise by serving notice on running the facility, which is used by youth, boxing and gymnastics clubs, has a gymnasium and serves as a polling station.
The council’s chair, Councillor Lorraine Hodgson said the importance of Colburn Leisure Centre should not be underestimated.
She said: “There isn’t any other spaces that do it because we closed Richmond and we invested in this one in Colburn. It is a really big worry.”
Coun Dale said responding to the situation would be the main issue discussed by the council’s senior management team at a meeting on Thursday (October 20).
She said: “This is a building of significance in the main area of growth in Richmondshire.”
The meeting heard demand for community facilities in Colburn was due to increase with planning applications for 375 homes recently being approved in “just over the fence” Brough St Giles.
Conservative group leader Councillor Yvonne Peacock highlighted concerns the trust’s decision could have some knock-on impacts on the district’s only public swimming pool, in Richmond, which is run by the trust.
Coun Dale replied the town council had received assurances from the trust that the financial issues related only to Colburn Leisure Centre, which was home to groups including youth, boxing and gymnastics clubs and facilities such as a gymnasium.
She added: “I think this is something we should recognise in the whole of Richmondshire, because we all represent our communities which have community buildings that we should be speaking to. This is a concern for all of our buildings that we represent. This is something we should be looking at as a district to see how we can invest in them to give them longevity and safeguard them over these coming months.”
She said while some community buildings were well insulated, others were “not so fortunate”.
Coun Les said he would be contacting all the community halls in his neighbouring Catterick Bridge division to offer “direct assistance with energy bills” to those facing very high energy costs from his councillors’ locality budget.
He said: “It is going to have an impact on community halls and the like. Some will be protected as they have long-term contracts in place, but even those come to an end. With energy prices worldwide being as they are it is a worrying situation for the future.
“The loss of a polling station is a worry, but it will be addressed.”
A Richmondshire council spokesman said it was continuing to support the swimming pool in Richmond, run by the trust through a long-term lease for the site of the pool and a management agreement relating to the operation of the swimming pool.
He added: “The pool is currently undergoing major external works to the building to secure its ongoing functions and improve efficiencies through the use of solar panels to the roof. The council will also continue to support the trust through its management agreement, having recently increased its funding contribution by £50,000 per year.”