WINCHESTER civic chiefs have approved the change of management of their leisure centres.

Everyone Active are now set to replace Places for Leisure in running the River Park Leisure Centre and Meadowside in Whiteley when they reopen, due on September 1.

It will enable existing staff to transfer to the new operator ahead of reopening.

The council has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to Places for Leisure but denied this is compensation for ending the contract before the previously agreed date of 2023.

But councillors raised the issue at Cabinet. Cllr Hugh Lumby welcomed the opening but asked: “The compensation payment to Places. Is this really the best we could do? There is reference to a right of early termination with Places, does this assist? There is reference to River Park being kept in good order but this seems overstated - I recall someone once commenting this building was ironically the most environmentally friendly in Winchester, as the water came through the roof at the same rate as it leaked out of the pool. are places being rewarded for their failure to perform? I worry we are overpaying here as well.”

The exact payment has not been disclosed for legal reasons. Legal officer Kathryn Knight told Cabinet: “There has been the utmost scrutiny and these number represent the legal requirement. Compensation does not come into it.”

Council director Chas Bradfield said the council had negotiated strongly with Places for Leisure and taken external legal and financial advice.

Deputy council leader Neil Cutler said the sum was the cost of maintaining the building during closure and not compensation.

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Emma Back of Winchester Sport, Arts Leisure Trust (SALT) supported the reopening approach and appointing Everyone Active to oversee the transition.

She said she hoped the management of the new centre would improve. A basketball hoop mechanism at River Park Leisure Centre had not worked for ten years, she said.

Cllr Malcolm Prince, cabinet member for sport, said: “We are determined to ensure that residents have access to the district’s leisure centres as soon as possible. This plan represents the best value for the council having carefully assessed all the options open to us.

“We will now work with Everyone Active to ensure we can welcome people back to Winchester and Whiteley leisure centres in September with confidence. I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank our existing operator Places Leisure for their contribution to the health and wellbeing in our district.”

Alison Norman, area contract manager at Everyone Active, added: “The leisure centres in Winchester and Whiteley are pivotal in providing a wide range of facilities to the community and engaging people from all backgrounds in exercise. We are delighted to be taking over management of these centres from September, followed by the launch of the new Winchester Sport & Leisure Park next year.

“We’re very much looking forward to becoming a part of the Winchester community and reopening the centres after a long period of closure. We’d like to reassure all customers that we have implemented strict measures to ensure the cleanliness and safety of our centres for when they reopen. We will be in touch with all our customers very soon with the specific details and reopening plans in relation to their local centre. We thank them for their patience, and we look forward to seeing them all soon.”

John Oxley, chief operating officer at Places Leisure, said: “We’ve really enjoyed our partnership with the council over the past 28 years. Our mission has always been to encourage the community to be active, and we’re sure they will continue to do so in the future. We’d like to thank our teams for their hard work.”