COMMERCIAL viability is an “inescapable necessity in modern public services”, according to the district council.

Alton’s new £20 million sports centre is now up and running but not everyone is happy.

Some residents are disappointed with the mix of activities available compared to those on offer at the old facility.

Others resent the scrapping of gym-only memberships or the extra costs of some activities.

All the while, long-held disappointment about the size of the building remains.

However, many concerns can be traced to the fact the sports centre is a business instead of a public service.

Historically, the council paid operators to run sports and leisure centres. But now operator Everyone Active actually pays the council a licence fee.

This means the centre absolutely must turn over a profit with activities on offer largely designed around what sells.

In a scathing letter to the council, published in this week’s Herald, one 87-year-old customer said it was “quite obvious that commercialism has taken over”.

As an active member of Alton’s Health and Fun Club, Maurice Lane had enjoyed using the old poolside sauna, steam room and jacuzzi for the last 32 years.

However, he believes the new private spa facility is effectively an expensive “beauty parlour” being “exploited” as a “cash cow”.

But East Hampshire District Council has made no secret about the centre’s remit.

A spokesman told the Herald: “Councils are no longer in a position to pay for large facilities like Alton Sports Centre in the way they used to decades ago.

“In the past, the old centre was run on council hand-outs and was a heavy burden on tax payers.

“Our ground-breaking deal with Everyone Active has changed that and has meant that the council is in a position to invest more than £30m in leisure facilities across the district.”

However, this investment will “soon be returned to the public purse with interest”.

This is because the “design” of the new centre has been based on “financially-sound, commercially-driven decisions”.

The spokesman added: “Our objective is to provide the opportunity for more people to be active and healthy and the wonderful new £20m centre in Alton certainly fulfils this aim – but it will also be able to pay for itself, which is an inescapable necessity in modern public services.”

Councillor Steve Hunt, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, said: “This is 100 per cent a ‘leisure centre’ and is being run on a commercial basis.”