CONTENTIOUS plans by council leaders in the New Forest to hand over the day-to-day running of five leisure centres are set to go out for expressions of interest.

New Forest District Council is attempting to find a partner to operate the facilities they own across the local authority area in Ringwood, New Milton, Lymington, Totton and Applemore.

In December last year, the civic chiefs agreed to commence the process to secure a private-firm to carry out the plan.

After 10 customer forums attended by more than 170 customers, the council is now in a position to formally start the procurement process.

Cabinet members are due to discuss the current state of play on Wednesday before companies express their interest through an online procurement portal between September 16 and October 18.

Following this, five providers will be invited to come forward to the negotiation stage, with bids returned in the new year.

A final recommendation to cabinet and council on a preferred bidder is currently scheduled to be available in July.

Cllr Mark Steele, portfolio holder for health and wellbeing, said: “Since the inception of the cross-party health and leisure task and finish group in April 2018, this group’s work has been progressive, diligent, reflective and now judiciously endorsing the process of seeking a partner to manage the five health and leisure centres across the New Forest, in line with the health and leisure vision – ‘working with partners to create active communities by providing affordable, accessible leisure facilities, dedicated to improving physical and mental wellbeing and establishing a sustainable healthy lifestyle legacy for future generations’.

“The ‘expressions of interest’ is the very first stage of this process of partnering, which will help to deliver the health and leisure vision. The council is seeking a partner to manage the five health and leisure facilities to help deliver a sustainable healthy lifestyle legacy for future generations.”