Southend leisure centres slammed for not reopening immediately after lockdown

Bosses behind Southend’s leisure centres have come under fire for failing to re-open sites immediately after lockdown, despite a £1.5million bail out.

Councillors called on Fusion Leisure’s contract to be reconsidered after only one swimming pool opened immediately following lockdown.

Residents also continued to be charged, with the issue raised at the place scrutiny meeting on Monday.

Leisure centres have now re-opened, but councillors insisted this should have happened immediately.

Conservative group leader, Councillor Tony Cox, said: “No other private company has been bailed out to the significant tunes that fusion has during this pandemic with public money.

“We could only open one single swimming pool, even when restrictions were eased to allow leisure centres open.

“It was even then quite frankly disgusting that during that period of when they were closed that people were asked, those who had memberships, to pay £40 just to retain their membership.

“Shoebury Leisure Centre, Belfairs closed for months upon months upon months. Even when restrictions eased we still had to wait another month for those leisure centres to open.”

Southend Leisure and Tennis Centre closed in November 2020 as part of national restrictions. Other sites run by Fusion are Belfairs Swim Centre, Shoebury Leisure Centre and Chase Sports and Fitness Centre.

Fusion received £1.2m of income and expenditure support since last year, plus £406,090 grant from the National Leisure Recovery Fund.

Matt Dent, Labour councillor for Kursaal ward, said: “Through the pandemic I had so many complaints from residents around Fusion. The fact they’ve been so slow to re-open the leisure facilities as restrictions have been eased.

“Private gyms have suspended payments whilst they’ve not been able to open.

I’m a member of Odeon’s Limitless scheme and they didn’t take a single payment while cinemas were closed.

I think it’s just common sense. I know that Fusion have had their issues. I know they’ve been faced with problems.

“The approach has fallen below the standard that I and this council expect.”

Fusion Leisure was contacted for comment but failed to respond.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter