A new leisure centre for North Devon is several steps closer after £1.5million was set aside for it. North Devon Council said Sport England had ring-fenced the money for the project and would work alongside the council to support its fund-raising bid. The council wants to extend the Tarka Tennis Centre to provide a new pool and leisure facilities at Seven Brethren in Barnstaple. If the bid is successful, construction could begin in autumn 2018 and be complete by summer 2020. It is proposing to include a new eight-lane 25metre pool, learner pool and fitness gym, exercise studios, sports hall and a full size 3G artificial grass pitch. It has previously been estimated the scheme could cost around £8m, but the current leisure centre has reached the end of its life and it would cost millions just to keep maintaining it. The council said the news from Sport England was the icing on the cake a planning application for the new facilities has been submitted and it is hoped this will be decided in December. Plus the search is on for an operator to design, build, run and maintain the new leisure facilities, with a closing date of October 27 for companies to express an interest. The Investment Committee of Sport England is in support of the project and has formally invited the council to submit an application for funding. The councils executive member for parks, leisure and culture, Councillor Dick Jones, said: We may have been fairly quiet about our leisure centre project for a while, but behind the scenes a huge amount of work has been going on to drive the project forward and this is the news weve been waiting for from Sport England. I am so delighted by their decision to support our application and look forward to continuing to work with them to progress our funding bid. Weve also reached two key milestones this week, with the planning application lodged and the contract out to tender. I would like to congratulate the officers for what they have achieved so far and thank them for their professionalism and continuing hard work. North Devon Leisure Centre is coming to the end of its useful life and weve got to work hard to secure this funding to provide a new pool and leisure facilities to replace it. The scheme is part of the councils masterplan for Seven Brethren which includes potentially a hotel, restaurants and a multi-screen cinema. To keep up to date with the progress of this project, follow the councils blog www.newleisurecentre.wordpress.com.