Labour-controlled Ipswich Borough Council has just announced a review of sports facilities in the town. Spending is £1.5m a year on sports provision with a net cost of £350,000 a year. A council review in 2017 resulted in the abolition of crèche services, whilst committing to reversing these annual losses,” explains Ian Fisher, Leader of the Ipswich Conservative Group.

The Council claims maintenance of ageing properties, most dating from the 1980s, is an issue, and nothing is off the table, including closures, or new facilities.

Cllr Ian Fisher, Leader of the Ipswich Conservative Group says:

“A lack of maintenance should not be an excuse for closures. This has always been an issue with the Labour group. All properties should have 10-year maintenance plans, to ensure public safety and contain costs. A lack of regular maintenance eventually results in expensive repairs and refurbishment, which is evidently happening with these buildings, as well as other council-owned properties, including the former Post Office, an architectural gem, on the Cornhill in the centre of town, which is now scheduled for works, although there isn’t a tenant.”

Fisher acknowledges that the ‘fitness’ market has changed significantly over the last 20 years or so, with many private gyms, with swimming pools and spas.

“However, not everyone can afford membership, and that needs to be borne in mind during the review:

“We haven’t seen the terms of reference for the review, nor the budget, but hope it has a wide brief, to evaluate other facilities, such as community centres, alongside the sports facilities. It makes sense to join things up, providing the best options for each neighbourhood.”

This is especially important, following the County Council’s decision to further review its children’s centres, having closed nine in 2014, the remaining 38 are now under threat:

“We have serious concerns about these facilities, given the gang culture, and the need to support young vulnerable people and their families. Bringing services together under one roof would be enormously beneficial, both financially and socially.”

He points out that two of the sports centres, at Gainsborough and Whitton to the east and west of Ipswich, have a number of football pitches, “which are especially popular in the evenings and at weekends, providing opportunities for people of all ages, male and female, to have fun, developing social and competitive skills. We would oppose any plans to close these facilities, although we are open minded about the future of the buildings, themselves, which could be adapted for additional services.”

Fisher suggests introducing a cycle track on spare land, and closer working with clubs and schools, as well as the university and Ipswich Town FC, to develop home-grown players. “It is almost certain now that the football club will go down, which will have an impact on the local economy, but this will be an opportunity too.”

The Conservative Group would also oppose closing the swimming pools, “which are accessible to everyone, of all ages and level of fitness, throughout the year, at a reasonable price.” Schools are required to teach children to swim, and use both Crown Pools and Fore Street Baths, which is the second oldest such building in the UK, as do people from across the region.

With Snoasis, a state of the art ski centre, now expected to become a reality, Fisher suggests there could be potential to develop a new sports village nearby, on the former sugar beet site at Sproughton, owned by Ipswich Borough Council through one of its trading companies, which could be an added tourist attraction. “Ipswich lacks vision, and an ambitious plan to benefit the wider community could attract inward investment, with external funding from key sports organisations, including the English Cricket Board, which recently made a commitment to develop the sport in deprived areas:

“The Ransomes ground, which is part of the review, used to have an enviable reputation for the sport, and is ideally located close to schools and a council estate, to revive cricket in Ipswich. Labour always treat cricket and rugby as ‘elitist’, but that is not the case; a broader range of young people deserve the chance to play.”

The Conservatives look forward to working with residents, and the council, to ensure that any recommendations comply with assurances of detailed consultation to meet the needs of an expanding local population. “Such an important review requires close scrutiny before any changes are implemented.

“These facilities should be maximised to help vulnerable people, including preventing loneliness, which can be ignored.”

Only a third of council seats are up for election, whereas other district councils in Suffolk are ‘all out’; if Ipswich adopted the same system, £250,000 a year or more would be saved, significantly offsetting losses in the sports centres…