LEIGH Town Council is hoping to take over ownership of a community centre to save thousands in rent – but residents have raised major concerns that “it could be run into the ground or sold off”.

Just weeks ago, residents expressed fears during a feisty town council meeting that the Leigh Community Centre, in Elm Road, could be sold before town council leader Bernard Arscott allayed fears by insisting it would stay open.

Now, Mr Arscott has revealed that he is in talks with Southend Council about taking ownership of the building to save paying thousands of pounds in rent.

Mr Arscott said: “We’re looking at renegotiating the lease to save us money and potentially talking to the council about whether we can actually take the building over directly so we don’t have to pay anything on it at all. That would be really good news and would put money back into services which we provide as a council.

“We have had early discussions with city council. At present, we pay a nominal rent to the city council but if they do that then it’s something that would benefit the residents of Leigh. It would secure the long-term future of the centre as well. It would be our building, our property and there would be no risk of anything happening to it.”

Mr Arscott added: “That would allow us to do more. That money currently allocated to paying rent, that’s several thousand pounds a year would then go back into the budget for doing other things.”

The centre has function rooms and hosts activities for children, including ArtBaby and pre-school classes along with dance and fitness classes.

However, worried residents have reacted with concern, just days after former town council leader Keith Evans branded the council an “absolute shambles” over a series of issues.

Leigh resident Leslie Parris said: “I don’t think they can manage the council as it is. I would worry that they could run it into the ground. There is a lot going on at the council that worries us. I can’t find a resident who has any faith or trust in the current council. I worry Leigh Town Council would probably run it for a while and then sell it off.”

Southend Council leader, Tony Cox, confirmed he received communication from Leigh Town Council about the purchase of the building.