PROTESTERS gathered around the New Forest over the weekend to voice their opposition against their proposals to privatise sports centres.

Members of New Forest Labour Party held a day of action over options being discussed by the district council, which owns five health and leisure centres in the area.

New Forest District Council proposed to cut its leisure services to save approximately 0.35 per cent from its annual budget, as New Forest leisure centres lose a total of £400,000 a year.

Party activists and members of the public protested outside the centres at Applemore, Lymington, New Milton, Ringwood, and Totton.

Alan Goodfellow, a 69-year-old retired trade union representative from Totton, said: “We hope that this protest will be a wake-up call to local people. It will disenfranchise the public and it is their right to access leisure centres and keep fit.”

He added: “Little children want to do gymnastics and they are the medal winners of the future. They are being robbed of that opportunity.”

Another resident said: “We are one of the only leisure centres left that are not privatised and everyone is entitled to health and exercise, especially when everywhere is so built up. Soon it will be a status symbol to go to the gym.”

Helen Field, a 65-year-old retired teacher from Totton, said: “I really think it is important for the council to run leisure centres. We have so many children coming along to Totton Health and Leisure Centre learning about being active. They are all things that are likely to be at risk with privatisation.”

However, the council's portfolio holder for leisure and wellbeing, James Binns, said: “NFDC is committed to providing a leisure service that is of the highest quality. We are not privatising the centres or selling off our assets. We are clear any potential partnership agreement will ensure that NFDC continues to own the buildings.”

About 500 council employees will be transferred to the private sector if the plans go ahead, according to Unison.