Green light for sports centre in Berwick
Work on a new state-of-the-art leisure centre for Berwick is set to start later this year after planning permission was granted by councillors this week.
The £20million facility, funded by Northumberland County Council, will be built on the site of the current Swan Centre in Tweedmouth.
It will be run by Active Northumberland, the charitable trust that manages leisure services across the county.
Members of Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee approved the planning application for the centre at their meeting on Tuesday, giving the green light to appoint contractors and start the development.
Work is due to start on site in November, and will be carried out in phases to ensure that the existing Swan Centre continues to operate at all times until new facilities open to replace them.
Phase 1, which includes the new swimming pool and fitness suite, is due to open in April 2021.
The full new building is expected to be open in summer 2022.
Designed by GT3 Architects, the centre will feature a five-lane, 25m swimming pool, a teaching pool and leisure pool and spa facilities.
There will be a sports hall, indoor bowls, fitness studios, cafe and a sensory room.
Outside there will be a 3G full-size playing pitch, play park and trim trail and parking for 175 cars.
Members of the committee were supportive of the new development, however, there were some concerns about road safety.
The councillors were told that given the site is currently used as a leisure centre, there is no justification in planning terms for requiring improvements above and beyond what has been agreed.
Coun Malcolm Robinson was assured that it was a good design by planning officer Tony Lowe after saying: “The current leisure centre is almost an eyesore, I just want to make sure we give the people of Berwick something they can be proud of.”
In the vote, Coun Trevor Thorne abstained, saying: “In the past, Berwick has had a leisure centre on the cheap, not any more, we are investing a lot of money and I’m delighted for the people of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
“What I’m not delighted about is that I don’t think we have done our homework on the highways matters.”
But Coun Guy Renner-Thompson, who moved the approval, said: “It’s a fantastic scheme, something which will bring more visitors to Berwick, and it’s a benefit not just to the people of Berwick but people in the likes of my ward (Bamburgh) who travel there to use it.”
Afterwards, Northumberland County Councillor Cath Homer, Cabinet Member for Culture, Arts, Leisure and Tourism, said: “I am thrilled that this planning application has been approved.
“It now means we are able to move forward with the development and soon offer more great opportunities for people living in the Berwick area to improve and maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
Coun Homer added: “Not only will it be a fantastic facility for the local community but we want it to be a tourist destination too attracting visitors from other parts of Northumberland, the Borders, South Scotland and beyond.”
Earlier in the year, residents were consulted on the exciting new plans at exhibitions held in the town, which included a virtual reality video, showcasing what the centre would look like.
During the consultation there was significant support for the retention of an indoor bowls facility, and officials have said this has been incorporated into the new centre.
Council officials added that the current Swan Centre has millions of pounds worth of backlog maintenance issues, and is no longer fit for its intended purpose.
Mark Tweedie, chief executive of Active Northumberland, said: “Like the Swan Centre, this fabulous new facility will serve the Berwick community for generations to come, it will be iconic, an asset for the town and a wonderful place for residents and visitors to enjoy great experiences.
“Active Northumberland have a new vision and strategy aimed at transforming leisure services, with an increased focus on participation for all and improving health and wellbeing.
“This modern new facility will really help us achieve our new vision for leisure.”
Berwick's three County Councillors – Georgina Hill, Gregah Roughead and Catherine Seymour – have also welcomed the news that work on the new leisure centre will commence this year.
Coun Roughead, member for Berwick West with Ord, on behalf of the local councillors, said: “We are delighted at the rapid progress that has been made in designing and developing the new centre.
“It was good to see our local community get involved and share their ideas with us through drop-in session events held across Berwick.
“We are glad that the county council has listened closely to us and the community too, such as coming to a decision for the retention of the indoor bowls facility.
“The approval of the planning application for the new £20million leisure centre at Tweedmouth is fantastic news for the local community.
“Berwick is now getting the investment it deserves.”