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Families face hike in leisure charges; But it could ease the pain of future rises.

Byline: By Dave Black

FAMILIES in part of Northumberland are facing above inflation rises in the cost of using council-run sports and leisure facilities to stay fit, active and healthy.

Town hall officials in Wansbeck are recommending increases in leisure charges of up to 10% from April - but say the move will cushion users against a potentially much stiffer rise in the future.

The recommended hikes in fees, which will be discussed by the district council's cabinet next week, cover things such as leisure centre membership, swimming sessions, gym use, football pitch hire, watersports and renting allotment plots.

They would affect adults and children using council-run facilities in Ashington, Bedlington and Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, as well as anglers and rowers on the River Wansbeck.

The move comes at a time when Wansbeck Council is freezing its share of local council tax bills in its last budget before the authority is abolished to make way for a single, super council in Northumberland next year. Leisure charges normally rise by around the rate of inflation in Wansbeck, but this year council officials are recommending above-inflation increases of mainly between 6% and 8%.

A report to next week's cabinet by the council's head of neighbourhood and community services, Colin Mitchell, says Wansbeck's leisure charges are traditionally lower than neighbouring authorities, but the quality of some of the district's facilities, such as gyms, is now as good as anywhere in the country.

He says Northumberland's new unitary council is likely to harmonise sports and leisure charges across the county at some stage, and that could mean significant increases for people in Wansbeck.

"It would be sensible to try to move closer to neighbouring authorities' prices now so that any future increases have less of an impact on our users. There is a risk that some users may find the above-inflation increases unacceptable. However, the council has been making, and will continue to make investment in the quality of our leisure facilities."

Mr Mitchell is recommending an increase of 10% in the cost of renting council allotments - from pounds 50 to pounds 55 for a 300sq yd plot - because illegal flytipping is using up current budgets. A 10% rise is also recommended for sauna sessions at Ashington leisure centre, where improved facilities will open this year.

The cost of a family or adult leisure centre membership is set to rise by pounds 2, a family swimming pool session by 50p and a 10-week course of adult swimming lessons by pounds 2. The increases also affect activities such as sports hall hire, badminton, snooker and indoor bowls.

The Cambois Amateur Rowing Club faces seeing its annual charge for using the River Wansbeck increase from pounds 475 to pounds 500.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 23, 2008
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