NEARLY half a million pounds will be needed to get Halstead, Braintree and Witham's struggling leisure centres open again.

Braintree Council says it will need to provide Fusion Lifestyle - which runs four centres in the district - with £480,000 so a phased reopening can begin.

Leisure centres were forced to close in March because of the coronavirus pandemic and have suffered an alarming drop in funds as a result.

Councillors will be asked to consider and approve handing over the cash in a meeting tonight (Monday, July 27).

If they agree to release the money, a plan on how to reopen the leisure centres will be discussed by Braintree Council's cabinet members on Thursday.

The plan would be for gyms, health & fitness and outdoor activities to reopen first in early August.

A second phased reopening would then see remaining facilities such as swimming pools reopen at a later date.

Braintree Council has already given Fusion £167,000 since the pandemic began to help cover running costs.

Health and wellbeing boss Peter Tattersley said: “We know people are eager to get back to their health and fitness activities and we are working hard with Fusion so that they can open as soon as possible in a Covid-19 Secure way.

"Leisure centre providers up and down the country have been severely hit by the pandemic and have needed urgent funding to cover loss of income and building maintenance costs.

"We want to do what we can to support the reopening of leisure centres as soon as possible because they are a key part of our community where people from all walks of life can make positive lifestyle choices, increasing their physical and emotional wellbeing."

Finance boss David Bebb added: "We now have a clear indication of the financial support Fusion needs in order to follow all the new national guidance and re-open in a safe way.

"By giving this additional money, Fusion will have the confidence to bring staff, currently on furlough, back to work so important work to reconfigure the centres can take place such as applying appropriate social distancing on gym equipment, implementing new sanitisation systems and mobilising new online booking systems so a safe and structured use of the sites can be put in place.

"We, like other councils and their leisure providers, continue to lobby the government for a funding package for the leisure sector, we recognise the important role our leisure centres play in our communities, supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of our district’s residents."

New guidance on how leisure facilities can operate during the coronavirus pandemic means Fusion needs to make alterations to its facilities to ensure visitors comply with social distancing.

The firm is planning on reducing some of its services as a result and has begun a consultation on making up to 98 redundancies in the Braintree district.

Regional business manager Carl Bentley said: "We have been analysing the safety and financial challenges ahead for our leisure services.

"The Covid-19 crisis has had a huge financial impact on our sector and footfall and income is projected to be significantly down over the next year while we operate within the new guidelines.

"We know leisure facilities are really important to the health and wellbeing of thousands of people throughout the Braintree district and we want to open again as soon as possible, we know we have many loyal customers and I would like to thank them for bearing with us during this really difficult time.

"We are working with Braintree Council to look at the options for a phased return."