An ambitious £24 million project to build two new leisure centres in Walsall is to go ahead after a last-minute hitch which could have seen the plans delayed or altered were resolved.
Proposals for new facilities at Leamore Park in Bloxwich and Oak Park in Walsall Wood had been stopped from going forward because the Friends of Leamore Park had not been included in the consultation.
But the group has now given its blessing to the scheme despite the fact that the new building will take up more park land than is presently the case.
Councillor Mike Bird, who was leader of the council at the time of the consultation, apologised for the omittance. He said: "I was not aware that the Friends of Leamore Park had not been consulted. It is only right and proper to take their views into consideration and not just pay them lip service."
New council leader Sean Coughlan, who took over from Councillor Bird this week, was delighted that the project could now get off the ground.
He said: "We all know the importance of exercise to our health and these leisure centres will take the pressure off our NHS and social care services, including in terms of extra funding."
The council wants to replace dated facilities in order to tackle the borough’s obesity problem. It was originally expected to cost between £15m and £21m.
But Walsall mayor Pete Smith felt the money would be well spent. He said: "This means Walsall will well and truly move into the 21st century in terms if its leisure facilities. It is particularly heartening to see that every councillor saw the wisdom of this decision even against a backdrop of continued austerity and cut backs.
"The reality is that had the decision been taken to scrap the proposals, the present ageing leisure centres would have been prime targets for future cuts and closure."
The total cost of the project is £24 million – with £2m coming from a government grant. The council would borrow the rest of the money and would shell out £1.39m a year in repayments – including interest – for 25 years.
With running costs it would spend £1.75m a year in total.
The council will not start paying any money back until 2015 when the building work is finished.
Councillor Smith said: "The cost will be spread over future generations who will benefit from the facilities.
"Although the new building will encroach on some of the park land, a reconfiguration of the park and further incorporation into the park of adjoining open space will mean that the result will be a net gain of open space to the park as well as a brand new leisure centre."