THE future of Swindon’s leisure and golf facilities is set to be decided at what is likely to be a heated council meeting next week.
Last month the cabinet recommended leasing out all leisure facilities to social enterprise Greenwich Leisure Limited, and both Broome Manor and Highworth Golf to Twigmarket.
Council leaders say this is being done to save an annual subsidy of £1.4 million and also attract millions of pounds worth of investment to improve the sites.
However, while there is general agreement on the leisure facilities, there is opposition to leasing out the golf facilities as they are breaking even. Many residents living in Old Town want the Croft Fields taken out as well to ensure it remains public space.
On Thursday the issue will come before council for full debate and possible approval, but the Labour group is looking at putting in amendments to resolve these issues.
Councillor Jim Robbins (Lab, Mannington and Western), the shadow member for leisure, said: “We understand why the leisure services are going because we are paying a large subsidy for them.
“However, the golf is breaking even and we don’t see why this public land should be handed over to a private company for 75 years.
“Now Moredon has been taken out of the golf programme it makes no sense to hand these over. When you look at the figures it is only the restaurant section which is losing money. The golf part of it is breaking even and we believe that it should remain in public control.”
The Croft Fields have long been an area of contention, and a 1,700 signature petition was handed over to the mayor last month asking for them to not be included in any lease programme, so it can remain public space.
An emergency council meeting was held last week to discuss the issue but a final decision was deferred until next week, much to the frustration of those in attendance.
Coun Nadine Watts (Lab, Old Town) said: “What the residents and myself cannot understand is how you can lease public land.
“We are asking for the Croft Fields to be removed so there is no chance for any development. It is all well and good saying there are no plans now but in five years time things may have changed so we want that protection.”
Coun Keith Williams (Con, Shaw), the cabinet member for leisure, said the council had listened to the public and will be speaking with GLL.
He said: “We appreciated the arguments put forward in the petition and will be speaking with GLL next week to look at how different options will affect the overall model.
“This is being done for the benefit of leisure for the whole town so we cannot jeopardise it over this one issue but we are looking into it.
“I would also suggest that Labour talk to the users of the golf facility who have expressed a preference for Twigmarket.
“They want to see extra investment and don’t just want to stick with the status quo.This is a very good offer for Swindon that will bring lots of benefits.”