THE future of a proposed new leisure centre appears to be hanging by a thread, with a blame game breaking out between rival councillors.

The near-£20 million Wessex centre planned for Grove had been put on hold over funding concerns in October 2018 and, despite a new administration taking control of Vale and White Horse District Council in May, no further progress appears to have been made.

Council officers say decisions will be made over ‘the next few months’ on plans for land north of Mably Way, which was set to see a 25m swimming pool, climbing wall, full-size floodlit astroturf pitch, 250-space car park and other facilities built by 2020.

Also read: Grove and Wantage leisure centre plan halted over funding worries

The council now admits it has ‘insufficient funds’ to complete the project, while Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors have rounded on each other for ‘irresponsible behaviour’ and ‘abandoning’ the community.

Wantage and Grove’s Lib Dem County Councillor Jenny Hannaby blamed the previous Conservative administration for apparent 'financial mismanagement', which she believes has stopped the £18.8 million project moving forward.

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Also a district councillor, Ms Hannaby slammed the Tories’ ‘totally irresponsible’ raising of residents’ expectations and did not accept that her party’s local election campaign had pushed similar buttons.

Her Lib Dem colleague Emily Smith, the district council's new leader, was repeatedly offered the chance to comment individually but did not.

The Conservatives have insisted that the plans were not put on hold when they were in power and suggested that, had they been re-elected, the centre would have been built.

Ben Mabbett, a Tory councillor, said: “At a recent Grove Parish Council meeting, councillor Hannaby said ‘quite frankly it will not be going ahead’. I think that the inaction and obvious abandonment of investment in our community is a disaster.

"Our community is growing and it seems the current administration wants to abandon the plans for a key piece of infrastructure for the future.”

Mr Mabbett, a former district and town councillor, continued: “It is one of the (Lib Dem) priorities to create community leisure facilities and Wantage and Grove has the most need with all the housing. They also seemed to promise to get infrastructure before any housing is built and save the hospital, but to be fair (the election literature) was woolly in the way it was written.

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“To say it is not going to happen is (also) slightly ironic as they were the ones that were saying it wasn’t big enough.”

In the Conservative's campaign for the district council elections in May, the party talked about ‘false claims’ being made that the centre had been shelved, suggesting it would ‘recommence the build’ once the financial situation became clearer.

Stanford district councillor Nathan Boyd said: “The Conservative administration did not run out of funds – until 10pm on May 2, all options were open – it wasn’t being shelved at that time.

“If (the Lib Dems) do cancel it, it would be a great shame for residents.”

Also read: Splashing the cash: new £18m Wantage and Grove leisure centre will be ready by 2020, Vale council leader promises

The Vale issued a statement yesterday saying it is currently developing a new Health and Wellbeing Strategy, which ‘will identify the district’s local health challenges and use of leisure services’ by January 2020.

It says the new strategy will be subject to full public consultation and cabinet approval, with councillors indicating that ‘they would like to consider evolving the approach to leisure services’ and would prefer housing developer contributions for leisure facilities to stay in the communities the houses are built in.

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Councillor Helen Pighills, cabinet member for community services, explained: “We want to look at getting a broader section of our residents more physically active across a wider area – not just residents who choose to use leisure centres.”

Julie Mabberley, campaign manager for the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group, added: “We believe that the plans for the new leisure centre are still on ice and are likely to be there for a long time because most of the money for leisure facilities in the Vale has been spent in Abingdon.

“As the new centre wasn’t going to be much bigger than the existing one we would be much happier if whatever money is available is used to renovate the existing leisure centre and to provide additional leisure facilities in the area (and the additional parking needed).”