THE political head of leisure in the New Forest insisted the local authority was not privatising recreation centres across the region despite residents’ concerns.

Cllr James Binns, New Forest District Council (NFDC) portfolio holder for leisure and wellbeing, said the possible outcome would involve private firms running the facilities in a partnership.

The plan to look into the arrangement for the five centres, which could save £4million over 10 years, was signed off in December.

Hundreds of residents signed petitions against the move with claims NFDC was carrying out ‘back door privatisation’.

However, Cllr Binns said this was not the case and members could still scrap the partnership approach for an alternative option.

The other possibility would see the council create a new arm’s length company to manage the centres.

Cllr Binn said: “We will go out for tender and see what potential partners come back in return. It would be a partnership where we would still hold the integrity of the buildings and can set stipulations in the contract with the partner on how the centres are run, with a board of councillors and partner representatives.”

Cllr Binns said the project timetable would see a final decision made, whether that proves to be a third party private partner or new council company, in June or July 2020.

Plans are in place to liaise with schools around several of the leisure centre sites, including Ringwood, New Milton and Lymington.

Customer forums will also take place where people can discuss concerns and share their opinions.

Cllr Binns added: “Once we have responses to the tender we can assess the situation and still have the option of a council-owned arm’s length company which has its benefits.