A major leisure centre project in Bury St Edmonds could be cancelled after councillors recommended investing in existing facilities instead.

West Suffolk County Council’s cabinet decided, at its September 19 meeting, to support plans to use a £724,000 annual budget to ensure existing leisure provision remains open instead of investing in the proposed new Western Way leisure centre in Oldling Road.

It’s decision, made due to potential financial risk, will now go to full council on September 26.

West Suffolk Council had allocated £75m for the Western Way development. The move means the council can look at possible alternatives for the Olding Road site.

Cllr Cliff Waterman, leader of the council, said in a statement: “Keeping leisure centres open and helping to improve the health and wellbeing of local communities is a priority.

“But to do so in this cost-of-living crisis means we need certainty over our budgets so we can continue to deliver high quality services and initiatives. Given the level of investment involved, Western Way is a massive project and potential financial risk during this national economic crisis.

“These proposals are a sensible way forward and safest in terms of short-term risks to the public purse while ensuring communities still have access to much needed leisure services.

“The council, like all public services, is facing extreme pressure from inflation, interest rates and the energy crisis.

“In May, we said we would be considering the Western Way project before making any final decisions to proceed. We understand the original aspirations for Western Way but things have changed since the original case was made and we have to take our decision to proceed in 2023, and not in the past.

“We believe that the challenging economic conditions mean it is right to cancel the leisure centre project at Western Way and re-think the re-use of the Olding Road site.

“Staying in the current building means we are able to apply to the competitive national bidding processes for Sport England support for existing swimming pools and also Government decarbonisation budgets which are only available to existing buildings. However, there is no guarantee we will get this funding.

“There are abortive costs in stopping the project, but with the present uncertainties the risks of carrying on could be greater. At this time around £2.4m of the previously agreed capital project has already been spent and the council will be using as much of that work as it can in helping look at options going forward.

“Some of that funding paid for works that would have needed to be done, whatever option is chosen. While the majority will be abortive, to spend even more at this time would be too risky.

“It is right we make sure we can continue to deliver leisure services, while meeting the financial challenges that have seen other councils fail. We will continue to act in a prudent way that keeps us safe.”

A report will be presented to the full council meeting on September 26 which will include a recommendation to start work on refurbishment of the current leisure centre as soon as possible.

The council plans to publish a report on new options for the Olding Road site by early 2024.

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