North Devon Council is proposing to take out a loan to help pay for a new multi-million leisure centre in Barnstaple.

The bid for the new centre at Seven Brethren took another step forward on Tuesday, February 26 when a special meeting of the council’s executive approved a recommendation to take out a public works loan to proceed with the construction of a new leisure centre.

The proposal would see a new swimming pool, sports hall and exercise studios built next to Tarka Tennis Centre, with the old building eventually demolished and the area redeveloped.

The decision will now be taken to the full council meeting on Wednesday, March 13.

The council’s contracts delivery manager Mark Kentell told the Gazette the project would be largely self-funding, with a large portion of the loan repayments met by the return from the new facility, which would be paid back to the council by the operator at an agreed, fixed rate. External funding and section 106 contributions will also be used to help bridge any funding gap.

The council says it would not be viable to repair the existing North Devon Leisure Centre in Barnstaple. Picture: Andy KeebleThe council says it would not be viable to repair the existing North Devon Leisure Centre in Barnstaple. Picture: Andy Keeble

He said: “The final build cost is still being negotiated through a tender process. We are approaching the final stages of this procurement, with the final tender submissions coming in at the end of March. The funding of the new centre is actually much cheaper (over the loan period) than trying to keep the current one standing.

“It’s simply not viable to keep the old one going beyond the life of the current contract.”

The council said the project was still dependent on grant funding from Sport England Strategic Facilities Fund and the Coastal Communities Fund, but that Tuesday’s decision was ‘a significant step towards delivering this exciting project’.

Decisions are expected from Sport England on March 6 and the Coastal Communities Fund by March 29.

With the funding in place, the council would hope to start work on the new centre later this year.

The leaders of the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and independent groups of North Devon Council issued a joint statement supporting the project. They said: “Providing a new leisure centre for North Devon will achieve the aims of our leisure and health strategy and meet the needs of our residents and the many clubs and schools who make use of our current facilities.

“We are very hopeful that our applications for funding will be successful.”

In relation to developing the wider Seven Brethren area, which includes new homes, Mr Kentell said this was still ongoing and would if anything be assisted by having the new leisure centre.

Keep up to date with the latest news on the progress of the new leisure centre project in the council’s blog www.newleisurecentre.wordpress.com.