COUNCIL bosses hope the month-long refurbishment of a leisure centre gym will have long-term public health benefits for Darlington residents.

Although the gym at the Dolphin Centre will close for a facelift on Monday (February 4), temporary gym facilities – with reduced admission fees - will be in place during the upheaval.

Mike Crawshaw, head of leisure for Darlington Borough Council, which runs the centre, hopes the refurbished gym will be a key tool in increasing activity levels.

Last year, a Sport England survey revealed that only 24 per cent of Darlington’s adult population exercise regularly.

Mr Crawshaw said the refit of the gym – which will include 75 new machines, more floor space and improved lighting – will be cost-effective for the cash-strapped council.

He explained that the cost of the work would be off-set by the increased number of people that will be able to use the expanded facilities.

Mr Crawshaw said: “The refurbishment will allow more customers to use the gym – put more bums on seats.

“We are the most accessible fitness venue in the town – anyone can use us on a pay-as-you-play basis.

“The money we are using to invest in the fitness suite is paid back – and more – by the fact that we will be able to enable more people to use the gym, more often.

“It is based on increased admissions.”

Mr Crawshaw said the ultimate cost of the development had not been finalised, but called it a “significant investment” in a facility which had its last full re-fit in 1994.

As well as casual visitors and members who pay monthly, the gym welcomes 6,000 people per year who have been referred there by their GP for conditions such as obesity and high blood pressure.

Last month, council chief executive Ada Burns admitted there were “no sacred cows” as the authority looks to make savings worth more than £14m in the coming years, on top of the £24.4m of cuts already identified.

Asked about the future of the centre, Mr Crawshaw said: “I do not feel relaxed at all, it is entirely correct that there are no sacred cows.

“The Dolphin Centre has got to continue to extend its use by Darlington residents to ensure that municipal leisure still plays a strong role in the community.

“As leisure people, we are convinced it fulfils a critical function in the town and plays a part in community cohesion – there are 37 clubs based here.

“It is at the heart of Darlington. Does that make it exempt from this financial position? Absolutely not.”