The soaring cost of a new taxpayer-funded leisure centre in the south of Waverley borough has drawn comparisons with the ill-fated HS2 high-speed railway line, according to an outspoken Farnham councillor.
The new Cranleigh leisure centre was forecast to cost taxpayers £19.95 million. But on Tuesday, October 3, Waverley Borough Council’s executive committee signed off on plans for the redevelopment of the Village Way site that will cost more than £30m.
Waverley says the potential environmental and health credentials of the new leisure centre should offset its soaring budget.
But this failed to cut the mustard for Councillor Jerry Hyman (Farnham Residents, Farnham Firgrove) who asked whether or not there was a “red line” over how far the council was willing to spend on the project.
He said: “Is this HS2, is this just going to go on forever? We can’t just have an open cheque book.”
He added: “I know this is very high spec, but should we be looking at such a high spec? It seems very, very expensive and I don’t think the council can afford it.
“We want great leisure centres but Farnham is going to need rebuilding at some point. You can’t just keep doing this – or can we? Are we just going to keep doing this everywhere?”
Waverley leader Cllr Paul Follows (Lib Dem, Godalming Central) responded: “One of the real positives of the climate change policies we have at this council is they actually have tangible cost savings.
“A leisure centre uses a lot of energy. A lot of the time that’s gas and certainly a lot of electricity – and a leisure centre like Cranleigh is going to use a lot of energy and a lot of gas if we build it in the traditional way. Those traditional ways cost a lot of money as energy costs go up.
“This is one of those times where investing in a green solution is actually a prudent financial decision.
“Are we going to do this at other leisure centres? I damned well hope so, frankly, because they all need that sort of look going forward as energy costs continue to rise.”
Cllr Mark Merryweather (Lib Dem, Moor Park), portfolio holder for finance, assets and property, added: “It pays for itself. The financial benefits of not using fossil fuels are clear as day.”